Do you have to listen to Dylan Thomas?

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1. An orchestral voice

Dylan Thomas often read his poems and prose on radio well before they were published in books. His own voice and recordings inspired a real love for his work and cemented his reputation as a writer.

Thomas's recitals for Caedmon Records in 1952 have been credited with starting the USA's audiobook industry. Barbara Holding, Caedmon's co-founder, said of the recordings: "We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice. We just expected a poet with a poet's voice, but this was a full orchestral voice."

Although the meaning of the words in Thomas's poetry was highly important, the sound is crucial too. Thomas's ability as a performer clearly influenced his poetry, and he was obsessed with the rhythms and musicality of his words.

2. The Richard Burton effect

Most people’s first experience of Dylan Thomas's work is hearing it. And the best-known recording is probably Richard Burton's performance as First Voice in Under Milk Wood.

Thomas had read this part in the first performances of the play in New York in 1953. Following his death just months later, the BBC asked Richard Burton, an acquaintance of Thomas, to take on the role in the 1954 radio broadcast of the play.

Burton's sonorous baritone quickly became synonymous with the part, which he reprised on radio in 1963 and in the 1972 film adaptation.

Among the 1963 cast was Welsh actor Dorothea Phillips, one of the few people who remember acting with Burton on radio. She said: "There was a tone and a musicality to his voice which was extraordinary.

"When he spoke he could do almost every note in the scale and make it seem entirely unforced. His acting voice was slightly Welsh but it was completely and utterly mesmeric and very expressive."

Once you have heard the performance it is hard to think of Dylan Thomas without hearing Burton's beautiful Welsh voice reading these magical lines.

3. 'Sound is all important'

In his stage direction for the premiere of Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas simply told the actors to 'Love the words, love the words'. The rhythms and tones are still paramount to actors and directors alike.

Andrew Sinclair, who directed the 1972 film, and actors Kimberley Nixon, Robert Pugh and Karl Johnson – who starred in a 2014 adaptation of Under Milk Wood – talk about sound in Thomas's work. Film footage courtesy of Timon Films.

4. Poetry is word music

While the magic of Under Milk Wood lies in its rhythm and sound, Dylan Thomas's poetry also cries out to be heard aloud.

Thomas wasn't a silent writer. Burton described him as "the most compelling talker" he'd ever met, and there are stories of him shouting words in the bath until he got the sounds right.

One example of his meticulously crafted poetry is 'Fern Hill', in which he remembers childhood summer holidays in rural west Wales.

Thomas makes use of repetition throughout the poem. He frequently uses the words 'golden' and 'green', and repeats parts of lines too. Five out of the six stanzas make reference to singing, music or sounds.

'Fern Hill' has an elaborate rhyming structure and each stanza has the same syllabic count, which helps the cadence – the rhythmic pacing of language – to sound so lyrical.

Another example is 'Do not go gentle into that good night'. This poem takes the form of a villanelle, a 19 line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains (lines that repeat).

The strict rhyming structure and repetition create a lyrical sound to the poem. The word 'night' from the first line is rhymed with light, right, bright, flight, sight and height. The second rhyme – the final word on the second line of each stanza – all rhyme too: day, they, bay, way, gay and pray.

5. Do you have to hear Dylan's work?

Read this passage, the second stanza from 'In my craft or sullen art', and then listen to Dylan Thomas reading his poem. Do you think his work needs to be heard?

Not for the proud man apart

From the raging moon I write

On these spendrift pages

Not for the towering dead

With their nightingales and psalms

But for the lovers, their arms

Round the griefs of the ages,

Who pay no praise or wages

Nor heed my craft or art.