“I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s the record.”(Quoted by John Malcolm Brinnin, Dylan Thomas in America). One of the most renowned authors of the twentieth century, Dylan Thomas is as well known for his philosophical poetry, critical writings, and essays. Often focusing on themes as birth, death, love, and religion, Thomas's works remain distinctly personal through a blend of rich language, detailed imagery, and psychological issues. Thomas is a poet known greatly for his indulgence in his love for poetry and literature. Parallel to this is the unique way Thomas was able to write his works about ideas and themes outside the environment he was contained to live within. His strict childhood and middle age
life, which was largely filled with drinking, and wondering slums played some part in shaping his work, but can be overlooked if studied correctly.
Marlais Thomas was born on October 27, 1914, in the Welsh seaport of Swansea. Both his parents held respectable jobs and he lived under a middleclass household. His mother, in particular lead Dylan from an early age to be a serious reader and writer of poetry. Dylan’s interest in poetry and literature was sparked at an early age, and by high school Dylan was editing for his school newspaper. Aside from editing, Dylan also published his own works which frequently appeared in other publications.
“It is particularly clear from his early poems, where Marc Alyn has observed, all of his originality is already on view, that he was occupied with introspections that lie outside of time and place, and that his style owes comparatively little to tradition and experience.”(Dylan Thomas) Unlike many writers, Dylan was able to explore with ideas that he frequently could not compare his own life
with. Dylan’s early poetry was greatly influenced by his friend Daniel Jones. The two friends often wrote plays, and developed poems by drawing lines out of a hat and piecing them together. These were the beginnings of Dylan’s career as a writer and poet.
Before long he was reporting and writing feature articles for the paper and its weekly supplement, The Herald of Wales. Thomas began to spend much of his time exploring the streets, pubs, and alleys of the depression-ridden seaport town in which he lived. Even though, well off himself, Thomas found it much more interesting to study and write about these areas (The Life of Dylan Thomas, Constantine Fitzgibbion).
Poetry became Dylan’s primary occupation. It was at this time that Thomas began to develop the serious drinking problem that plagued him throughout the remainder of his life and resulted in his death at the age of thirty-nine. His notebooks show that many of his most highly regarded poems were either written during this period. In May of 1933, his poem "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" was published in the New English Weekly, marking the first appearance of his work in a London journal, and in December of the following year his first poetry collection, 18 Poems (1934), was issued (The Craft and Art of Dylan Thomas, William T. Moynihan). Critical reception that greeted 18 Poems was overwhelmingly positive. Readers viewed Thomas as a highly, unique, yet traditional poetic writer. In many of these poems Thomas drew upon his childhood and adolescent experiences in order to write about. Critics also noted that Thomas frequently questioned or commented on Christian religion. Thomas used vocabulary from Christian beliefs, history, and doctrine. "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" was considered by many critics to be a breakthrough work in Thomas's career.
In 1937 Thomas married Caitlin Macnamara, passionate woman and an aspiring dancer (The Life of Dylan Thomas, Constantine Fitzgibbon). Two years later he increased his literary reputation with The Map of Love. This was a collection of new poems and short stories along with The World I Breathe, a collection of poems and stories taken mainly from earlier volumes (The Craft and Art of Dylan Thomas, William T. Moynihan). His son, Llewelyn, was born that same year. At this time Thomas experienced increasing problems with his growing debt. Probably due to the outbreak of war, even the autobiographical stories published in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) eventually a very popular work, failed to bring him much immediate income (British Writers, Ian Scott-Kilvert).
In the early twentieth century all these works that were published contained such radical concepts that no author had explored quit in the way Thomas did. Even though other authors of the Romantic era played with ideas of this sort, Thomas proposed them in such a way that he was much more highly regarded for his criticism because it was made more appealing to his readers. With this in mind we can dissect some of Dylan’s work in order to really appreciate the meaning of what Thomas was trying to accomplish or get across with his work.