Why is Dylan Thomas famous?
What he did
Dylan Thomas was a poet. In his poems, he used words in fresh and exciting ways. He loved the sounds of words, so his poems are great for reading aloud. He wrote about his life, his friends, and about Wales. Some poems are serious, some are funny.
When did he live?
Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 at the start of World War I. His first home was in Swansea, in South Wales. Later he lived in England, and visited America, but Wales was his real home. He died in 1953.
Under Milk Wood
Dylan Thomas is the most famous Welsh poet, and his most famous work is Under Milk Wood. It was first broadcast on radio by the BBC in 1954. It is about the people of a small town in Wales.
Boyhood in Wales
Dylan Marlais Thomas was born in Wales on 27 October 1914. His father David John ('DJ') Thomas was an English teacher at Swansea Grammar School. His mother, Florence Williams, was a seamstress, but gave up work to look after her children. The Thomas family had a maid to help with housework.
The Thomas family
Dylan's sister, Nancy, was 8 when Dylan was born. The family lived at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea. Dylan had several aunts and uncles in the town. Florence spoiled her curly-headed son. If he said he felt ill, she let him off school.
'DJ' and Florence spoke Welsh, but Dylan spoke only English. The first poems he remembered were nursery rhymes. He loved the sounds of words.
He enjoyed holidays on his Aunt Ann's farm in Carmarthenshire. Dylan's mother helped him read, and gave him comics. His father read Shakespeare to him.
First poems and school
Dylan started writing poems when he was 8. In 1925 he went to Swansea Grammar School. His first poem soon appeared in the school magazine. His father was in charge of the magazine!
The young yoet
Selling his first poem
At school, Dylan was good at English, but sometimes badly behaved. Most of all, he loved writing poetry. In 1927, he got paid for a poem by the Western Mail newspaper.
Praise from a famous poet
In 1930 Dylan sent some poems to Robert Graves, a famous poet. Graves liked them. Dylan was encouraged, and wrote many poems while still a teenager.
Getting a job
In 1931 Dylan left school. He got a job as a reporter on the South Wales Evening Post newspaper. He left next year but went on writing reviews of plays and concerts. Dylan enjoyed acting, though other actors were upset if he wrote rude things about them!
Dylan met his friends in a Swansea café, or in a pub. He loved to talk, tell stories, and read his poems aloud. He said poems should be read 'by the ears' and not just 'by the eyes'.
First trip to London
In 1933 he visited London for the first time. First he stayed with his sister and her husband. Then he shared rooms with friends. London was much bigger than Swansea. It was exciting to be in a city with so many writers and artists.
Life as a poet
First book of poems
In 1934 Dylan Thomas published his first book of poems, called 18 Poems. He was becoming known as a young poet. More people read his poems, liking how he used words, and how he wrote about Wales.
Dylan gets married
In 1936, Dylan met Caitlin Macnamara, a dancer. She knew lots of writers and artists. Dylan and Caitlin were married in July 1937.
In 1937 Dylan Thomas made his first radio broadcast, for BBC Wales. He talked about poetry.
Family life in Wales
In 1938 Dylan and Caitlin moved to the small town of Laugharne, in South Wales. Their house was called 'Sea View'. In 1939, their son Llewelyn was born.
Some of Dylan's poems were published in America. He wrote about growing up in stories called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.
War and hard times
In September 1939 World War II began. Dylan was not well enough to be a soldier. When called for army interview, he went into the room looking so ill he was excused. With paper rationed, many publishing firms closed. It was hard to make money from writing. In 1943 Dylan and Caitlin had a daughter, Aeronwy. Times were hard.
During World War II, Dylan wrote scripts for films and for the BBC. The war ended in 1945. Dylan broadcast on BBC Children's Hour about 'Memories of Christmas'. He was writing some of his best poems too.
The Boat House
In 1949 Dylan and Caitlin moved back to Laugharne. Their son Colm was born, but Dylan and Caitlin had many quarrels.
Their home, The Boat House, is now a Dylan Thomas museum. Dylan wrote in an old shed. He spent most evenings in the town's hotel, with his friends.
In 1950, Dylan went to America to read his poems and talk to students. He did not like America much. When he met film star Charlie Chaplin, he drove a car across the tennis court!
A poem for a death
In 1952 his Collected Poems were published. Dylan's parents also lived in Laugharne. When Dylan's father became ill Dylan wrote a poem to encourage him to get better, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. It is one of Dylan's most famous poems, it was also one of his last.
In 1953 Dylan went to America for the third time. He arrived just before his 39th birthday. He became very ill.
Dylan Thomas died in a New York hospital on 9 November 1953.
Under Milk Wood
A play for radio
Dylan Thomas finished Under Milk Wood just before his last trip to America. The BBC broadcast it in 1954. It is a play-poem, spoken by actors.
Under Milk Wood takes us to a Welsh town called Llareggub.
The narrator tells about the townspeople's dreams. Captain Cat dreams about lost shipmates. Mog Edwards dreams about his girlfriend Myfanwy Price.
A cast of characters
As the town wakes up, we meet more characters: Jack Black the cobbler, Mr Waldo the barber and rabbit catcher, Willy Nilly the postman, shopkeeper Mrs Organ Morgan, Dai Bread the baker, the school teacher Gossamer Beynon and others. One is Evans the Death (what could his job be?).
Back to dreams
The story ends at night, as everyone returns to their dreams. In 1972, Under Milk Wood was made into a film. People all over the world still enjoy its magic.