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The Dark Horse of Poetry Dylan Thomas
In 39 tumultuous years Dylan Thomas left his broad strokes of literary genius on the canvas of human experience. One of Dylan’s greatest achievements was lauded after his death as Under Milk Wood captivated the imagination of millions over radio and later the silver screen. The faces of Captain Cat and Rosie Probert took on a surreal reality as Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole personified them.
Today his haunting melodramatic poems drift in and out of the human consciousness leaving a bittersweet melancholy. Born into a literary rich Welch family words were much more than a passive pursuit for the young Thomas. His father taught literature in a nearby grammar school filling the Dylan home with academia.
The deep cultural backdrop of his childhood filled with pubs, cinema, and sidewalk artists filled the canvas of his genius with vivid color. At the age of 16 he was already an aspiring reporter at the South Wales Daily Post. Only a short stroll from the blustery newspaper would become what “the inklings” was to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien; for Dylan it was the Kardomah Café.
It was a melting pot of creative fervor on Swansea’s Castle Street in the heart of the city. Swansea, a Southwest Coastal county, was an epicenter of foreign trade and more importantly ideas and thought. The young Dylan Thomas cast himself into the ebb and tide of this intellectual frenzy and a poet was molded. Painters, writers, poets, and composers comprised this nucleus of literary and artistic aristocrats who met at the Kardomah Café and were kindly called “The Kardomah Gang”.
The Café and much of Swansea felt the blunt of a Nazi German attack and were destroyed in the winter of 1941. It’s celebrated now a few blocks away as are many of the midnight haunts of Thomas. Dylan’s Swansea may have been scarred by the brutality of war and his Café in cinders but his spirit was far from dead as he retreated to 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. There he forged many modern classics on the anvil of his own often tormented soul.
Following the floods of change and financial straits Dylan found himself in the great city of London where his poetry finally went to print. Eighteen Poems and Twenty-Five Poems as they were titled, found their way into the creative mainstream cementing Dylan Thomas as a giant in the land of poets.
Where Dylan’s pen stopped his voice began broadcasting on BBC of Wales and later London reading his poetry, plays and short stories. The riveting boisterous voice of Thomas heaped coals on the fire of his popularity reaching across the ocean arresting the American imagination. The States would make a legend but it would also be his demise as the gravity of notoriety and addiction swallowed him. Dylan Thomas was one of the first of many that would ride the wave of fame in the sultry streets of New York only to crash down on the craggy shores of reality.
Before New York it was the hills of Laugharne back in Wales as Thomas agonized over his poems again. In a small wooden cabin up a cliff path the poet breathed the splendid air of isolation and in the dark haze he wrought his masterpieces. Paper became a monster as Dylan wrestled with it for endless hours until he conquered it with a single sentence. A grueling task master each poem was a Mt. Everest to climb and he dared its splendid heights. If poetry was the love of his life then alcohol was his mistress as they danced a dangerous waltz of excess.
Dylan would make 3 legendary tours of the U.S. gracing the stages of universities and radio heralding an era of art and poem. In Greenwich Village where many other great voices were destined to follow, Dylan made his final toast at the White Horse Tavern. Leaving drunk he later slipped into a coma at the St. Vincent hospital and 4 days later he did “not go gentle into that good night…”
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