In 2012 the Welsh government announced a Year of Celebration across Wales, the United Kingdom and around the world for the centenary in 2014 of the birth of poet and writer Dylan Thomas. Born on 27 October 1914 in the industrial seaport city of Swansea in Carmarthenshire he has been hailed as one of the most important poets of the century whose lyrics rank among the most powerful and captivating of modern poetry. He wrote poetry while still at school and later worked as a journalist before moving to London. In 1934 his first volume was published; Collected Poems was published in 1952 and among his many works the voice play Under Milk Wood is one of his best known. In 1937 he married Caitlin Macnamara and they had two sons and a daughter.
He died in New York on 9 November 1953 during an extensive literary and lecturing tour and his body was returned to Wales for burial. A lengthy obituary by his fellow Welsh poet and long-time friend, Vernon Watkins, appeared in The Times of London on 10 November 1953. His final resting place is marked with a simple wooden cross in the churchyard of St. Martin’s Laugharne, the Welsh fishing village where he lived and worked for many years. His wife is buried in the same grave and her name appears on the reverse side of the cross. On l March 1982 a sculpted green Penryhn memorial stone with inscription from his poem Fern Hill was unveiled in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, London. A replica of the Westminster Abbey plaque is placed in St. Martin’s Church.
Year of Celebration
Dylan Thomas’ work and stature as a poet are extensively documented and chronicled by scholars, literary critics and commentators including his biographers. He disliked being regarded as a provincial poet and decried any notion of “welshness” in his poetry, noted for its lyricism, and said to be influenced by other writers including William Butler Yeats and the verbosity of James Joyce.
To honour his work, life and legacy an eclectic mix of events are taking place at major venues across the home town of Swansea’s famous son. They include talks, workshops, exhibitions and performances of his work with special invited guests. A BBC Dylan Thomas season of poetry, prose and music events was broadcast to coincide with National Poetry Day 2014 to honour probably the most famous and celebrated writer that Wales ever produced. He is remembered in the United States with a number of dedicated events to celebrate the poet.
In Swansea a focal point for celebration is the Dylan Thomas Museum considered to be the most important building from his life time as the house where he was born and lived for twenty-three years. A separate project is a new statue cast in bronze to be placed in the area near the house where he lived. In 2004 the Dylan Thomas Prize was created in his honour and awarded to the best published writer in English under the age of thirty. In 2005 the Dylan Thomas Screenplay Award was established. Administered by the Dylan Thomas Centre the Prize is awarded at the annual Swansea Bay Film Festival. The Dylan Thomas Theatre is also a reputed cultural landmark.
To mark the centenary of his birth the Dylan Thomas Centre will show a newly upgraded exhibition to officially open on 27 October 2014. It will display unique items and memorabilia associated with his writings and will include a black and white collection of photographs, some dating from the late 1930s when he was newly married and another set taken in New York in the early 1950s. The seventeenth annual Dylan Thomas Festival takes place from 27 October to 9 November to coincide with the dates of his birth and death.
He suffered from bronchitis and asthma from childhood and struggled with them all his life. In later years he acquired a reputation which he fostered as a “roistering drunken and doomed poet”. He died intestate with assets of around £100.
His troubled and Bohemian style marriage was fuelled by alcohol and infidelity but the relationship survived. In a memoir published in 1982 Caitlin described her relationship with Dylan as “predominantly a drink story because without the first-aid of drink it could never have got onto its rocking feet”. Prophetic wordsattributed to the poet … “The day will come when the name Dylan Thomaswill be echoed from shore to shore. Only I won’t be around to hear it.”
Ita Marguet, October 2014
Note: Acknowledgement is given to encyclopaedic and other sources used in this text. To mark the Dylan Thomas centenary, the Geneva English Drama Society (GEDS) will perform play readings of A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Under Milk Wood on 9 December 2014.