Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) is an influential Welsh poet from the 20th century. His modernist writing, which combined elements of Romanticism and Surrealism, created highly individualistic and beautiful poetry. He is most celebrated for his poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night" (1951), and for reviving interest in the Welsh language and culture. Although he died young at the age of 39, Thomas had a lasting impact on literature and music. 

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Table of contents

    Dylan Thomas, Wales Lighthouse, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Dylan Thomas was a poet from Wales.

    A Biography of Dylan Thomas

    Dylan Thomas was born on the 27th of October 1914 in Swansea, Wales. In school, Thomas only learned English, but his parents made sure he learned Welsh at home. Thomas often struggled with his health as a child, including problems with bronchitis and asthma, and therefore was often coddled as a child by his mother, aunt, and cousins. He also spent much of his childhood visiting relatives in various parts of Wales, including port cities, farms, and industrial towns. While attending the Swansea Grammar School in his teen years, Thomas began to write poems for the school magazine, and at the age of 16, Thomas went to work as a reporter for South Wales Daily Post.

    Thomas didn't return to school and continued to work as a freelance journalist, while simultaneously writing hundreds of poems. In 1929, Thomas also began to act and produce stage plays. Thomas was also a skilled artist and painted sets for the stage. In 1933, Thomas published many poems in the New English Weekly, including "And death shall have no dominion" (1933). In 1934, "Light breaks where no sun shines" (1934) was published in The Listener. Thomas's first poetry volume, 18 poems, was published in 1934 after it caught the attention of poets such as T.S. Eliot and Stephen Spender. 18 poems reached critical acclaim and gave Thomas status as a poet in London society.

    Dylan Thomas, London, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Dylan Thomas became famous in London circles and societies.

    Twenty Five Poems (1936), Thomas's next poetry collection, was published in 1936, and in 1938, Thomas won the Oscar Blumenthal Prize for Poetry. Around this time, Thomas also developed a tendency to drink heavily, affecting him throughout his life. In the late 1930s, a poetic group titled the New Apocalyptics tried to align themselves with Thomas; however, he refused to join the group. In the early years of WWII, Thomas published two poetry collections, The Map of Love (1939) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940). Sales of the collections were insufficient to support Thomas and his family, so he moved to Gloucestershire. Thomas never served in WWII due to a lung ailment but instead wrote scripts for the network BBC, which reported on the war.

    When his hometown of Swansea was bombed and left in ruins, Thomas, deeply saddened, wrote a radio play titled Return Journey Home (1947). Between 1942 and 1945, Thomas supplemented his income by writing scripts for films that had urban planning and wartime patriotism messages. During the 1940s, Thomas continued working many jobs, such as a BBC broadcaster, acting in plays, and writing scripts. In 1946, he published Deaths and Entrances (1946), which would become a renowned poetry collection.

    In 1950, Thomas went on a three-month tour in the United States, particularly in New York. He would give reading at art centers and college campuses and would sometimes appear drunk. In 1951, he published one of his most well-known poems in a literary journal titled "Do not go gentle into that good night." Around 1952, Thomas began to struggle with his health but still undertook a United States tour. This same year his last poetry collection, Collected Poems 1934-1952 (1952), was published.

    In 1953, Thomas returned once more to the United States for yet another tour. During this time, he was working on a recording of the radio drama Under Milk Wood (1954). After a brief return to the UK, Thomas was back in the United States in late 1953. However, Thomas was notably ill-looking and shaky. He even collapsed on stage while performing. Thomas was admitted to the hospital and fell into a pneumonia-induced coma. He never woke up and was formally declared dead on 9th November 1953.

    Poems by Dylan Thomas

    Dylan Thomas wrote over eight poetry collections containing hundreds of poems in total. Thomas was a notable Welsh poet that is associated closely with Welsh literature. Thomas was considered a modernist poet.

    Modernism was a literary movement that saw its rise in the early 20th century and sought to distance itself from traditional forms of writing. Modernist writing is experimental in form, subject, and literary technique, and also highly emphasizes individualism and symbolism.

    Thomas's work closely examined themes such as what unifies all life, the cycle of life and death, and new generations.

    Here is a list of Dylan Thomas's most famous poems:

    • "Fern Hill" (1945)
    • "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines" (1937)
    • "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" (1933)
    • "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" (1945)
    • "Do not go gentle into that good night" (1951)

    Let's take a closer look at Thomas's most famous poem.

    "Do not go gentle into that good night" (1951)

    Thomas wrote this beloved poem after the death of his father.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,Old age should burn and rave at close of day;Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Though wise men at their end know dark is right,Because their words had forked no lightning theyDo not go gentle into that good night.Good men, the last wave by, crying how brightTheir frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,Do not go gentle into that good night.Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sightBlind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,Rage, rage against the dying of the light.And you, my father, there on the sad height,Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.Do not go gentle into that good night.Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

    The poem is written in a style of poetry known as a Villanelle. This means the poem is divided into stanzas made up of three lines, and the last two repeated lines of verse are made of the last line of the alternating stanza. For example, the line "Rage, Rage against the dying of the light" is repeated every other stanza until the last two stanzas.

    What themes can you identify in the poem "Do not go gentle into that good night"? What other literary devices can you identify?

    The poem's meaning is quite straightforward: Death is an inevitable part of life, but one shouldn't give in to death. Rather, one should fight bravely against death.

    The Writing Style of Dylan Thomas

    Dylan Thomas is known for his individual and unique writing style. Thomas's poetry includes many literary devices and techniques such as vivid imagery, alliteration, dense word use, sprung verse, and internal rhyme. He also combined the writing styles of Surrealist poetry and Romantic poetry to create a unique poetry style.

    Dylan Thomas, Sunset, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Dylan Thomas is known for his vivid use of natural imagery.

    Sprung Verse or sprung rhythm is a metrical system that consists of one to four-syllable feet and always begins with a stressed syllable. It is meant to mimic natural speech and was devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    Thomas was also meticulous with his word use and, in particular, the sounds of the words. Visually he wanted the imagery of his poetry to feel like a patterned sequence. Let's look at an example and analyze it for Thomas's writing style.

    Here is an excerpt from Thomas's poem "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines."

    "Light breaks where no sun shines;Where no sea runs, the waters of the heartPush in their tides;And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,The things of lightFile through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

    A candle in the thighsWarms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;Where no seed stirs,The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,Bright as a fig;Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs," (Stanzas 1-2)

    Imagery is the first notable literary device used by Thomas in this poem. The reader can vividly see the rays of light and brightness from the candle, glow-worms, and stars. It is symbolic of hope in the darkest of times. There is also the use of alliterations such as "Sun shines," "seed stirs," and "breaks behind" which sounds pleasing to the ears. The poem also has an interesting rhyme scheme of ABCCBA, which is an example of an enclosed rhyme.

    The Influence of Dylan Thomas

    Dylan Thomas was an incredibly influential 20th-century poet. Namely, Thomas's use of beautiful language would inspire many poets, and his spoken poetry broadcasted on radios gave poetry a new medium. His spoken poetry would influence incredibly famous musicians such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and The Beatles. Dylan Thomas also influenced poets such as Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney. Dylan Thomas also sparked a revival in the Celtic tradition, which had been suppressed for centuries by British rule, known as the Celtic Revival. Thomas's use of language in a beautiful and melodious way was part of a long Welsh tradition of writing.

    Quotes by Dylan Thomas

    Here are quotes by Dylan Thomas taken from his most famous poems to better understand his writing style and poetry.

    Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughsAbout the lilting house and happy as the grass was green, The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb Golden in the heydays of his eyes,And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple townsAnd once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves Trail with daisies and barley Down the rivers of the windfall light," (Stanza 1, "Fern Hill")

    "Fern Hill" is a poem written by Dylan Thomas in 1945 and reminisces about his childhood on his aunt's farm in Wales. It touches on childhood innocence and simple joy. The poem contains many of Thomas's key writing style characteristics, such as vivid imagery such as the green grass and the golden hues, alliterations such as "house and happy," and a syllabic poem structure.

    They shall have stars at elbow and foot;Though they go mad they shall be sane,Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;Though lovers be lost love shall not;And death shall have no dominion," (Lines 6-10, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion").

    "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" was written by Dylan Thomas in 1933 and is a unique poem. It contains no structured rhyme scheme but is lyrical. The lyrical style of the poem is reminiscent of the Romantic literary style with its use of lyrical language and nature as a beautiful, powerful force. The title is biblical and references Jesus Christ's resurrection and is a message that man can fight against death. The poem contains literary elements, such as repetition of the line "And death shall have no dominion" throughout the poem, vivid imagery, and alliteration.

    Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,Robed in the long friends,The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,Secret by the unmourning waterOf the riding Thames.After the first death, there is no other," (Stanza 4, "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London").

    The four-stanza poem speaks of the death of a child by fire in London. However, the speaker refuses to mourn the child as the speaker recognizes that in death all are equal and return to the source from which they came. The poem speaks on a few key themes that often appear in Thomas's work such as the unifying nature of death and the cycles of life and death.

    Dylan Thomas - Key takeaways

    • Dylan Thomas is an influential Welsh poet from the 20th century and is known for his modernist poetry that combined elements of Romanticism and Surrealism.
    • Dylan Thomas wrote over eight poetry collections and is most famous for his poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night."
    • Dylan Thomas's writing style is modernist and contains individualistic elements such as the use of vivid imagery, alliteration, and beautiful, melodious language.
    • Thomas's work focuses on themes of what unifies all life, the cycle of life and death, and new generations.
    • Thomas was incredibly influential to 20th-century musicians such as Bob Dylan and was a key figure in the Celtic Revival movement.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Dylan Thomas

    What is the meaning of a Dylan Thomas poem? 

    Dylan Thomas's poems range in meaning but usually touch on the themes of what unifies all life, the cycle of life and death, and new generations.

    How did Dylan Thomas die? 

    Dylan Thomas died of a pneumonia induced coma in 1953. 

    Who is Dylan Thomas? 

    Dylan Thomas is an influential Welsh poet from the 20th century.

    What is Dylan Thomas's most famous poem? 

    Dylan Thomas is most famous for his poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night" 

    How old was Dylan Thomas when died? 

    Dylan Thomas was 39 years old when he died. 

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