Dylan Marlais Thomas was born on 27th October 1914 in Swansea, just after the outbreak of the First World War. No doubt, the social changes brought by the Great War impacted on his family and childhood, as it did for everyone in the UK during those years. His parents, fluent Welsh speakers who originated from Carmarthenshire, gave him his Welsh christian name, believed to mean ‘son of the waves’. However, in line with the thinking of those times, Dylan was not brought up to speak Welsh, which explains why one of the most famous of Welshmen wrote exclusively in English. Happily for the English-speaking world, this accident of destiny made his works internationally accessible.
He shared a similar middle name with his elder sister, Nancy Marles (Dylan Marlais) Thomas, given to them both in honour of their great-uncle, William Thomas – a minister and poet whose bardic name was Gwilym Marles. Could he have been Dylan’s inspiration for the character of Rev. Eli Jenkins, a Reverend and poet, in ‘Under Milk Wood‘?
Dylan’s father, David John Thomas, was Senior English Master at Swansea Grammar School, where Dylan went to school.
An educated and literate upbringing no doubt paved the way for the writing that would follow.
The works of Dylan Thomas – a brief overview
Dylan began writing early in his school life, eventually becoming editor of his school’s magazine. He was a prolific poet between 1930-34, producing 200 poems in those years, while still only 16-20 years old.
His later works, too numerous to detail in full here, include the famous ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood, the collection of stories Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, the poems ‘Fern Hill’ and ‘The hunchback in the park’ and, of course, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’.
A common misconception about this latter work has been clarified by his grand-daughter, Hannah Ellis. Dylan was not, apparently, referring to death in his poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, he was witnessing his father’s gradual descent into blindness and that was the ‘dying light’ he wrote to ‘rage, rage against’.
For a full overview of his works, visit the official Dylan Thomas website.
A literary legacy
He died prematurely on 9 November 1953 in St Vincent’s Hospital, New York, four days after collapsing and just 12 days after his 39th birthday. His wife, Caitlin, brought his body back for burial in Laugharne, Wales, where they had lived for various periods during their marriage.
How sad that the life of such a creative and original talent was cut short, but what a legacy of work he has left to the literary world!
The Coin to Commemorate Dylan Thomas 100
The Royal Mint has created a commemorative coin in collaboration with Dylan Thomas’ grand-daughter Hannah Ellis, Patron of Dylan Thomas 100, the initiative formed to co-ordinate the festival of celebration and all related activity.
Our own Royal Mint Engraver, Lee R Jones – himself a lover of Dylan’s works – found inspiration for his coin design in the visual aspect of Dylan’s poetry and in his name. Lee captured the abundant waves in Dylan’s hair in his coin design, giving it energy and vitality as he passionately wished to convey those aspects of Dylan’s character and work. The ferns in the background of the design will immediately resonate with those familiar with one of Dylan’s most famous works ‘Fern Hill’. A quirky detail is the bow tie worn by Dylan, which was suggested by his grand-daughter as a touch of humour. Hannah recently visited the mint to strike one of the coins that commemorate the 100th anniversary of her grand-father’s birth.