Thomas, Dylan (Marlais)

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Date: Edition 1 1995
Publisher: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
Document Type: Biography
Length: 487 words

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Thomas, Dylan (Marlais) (b. Oct. 27, 1914, Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales--d. Nov. 9, 1953, New York, N.Y., U.S.)

Welsh poet and prose writer whose work is known for comic exuberance, rhapsodic lilt, and pathos.

Thomas grew up in southwestern Wales. He performed poorly at school but through his own efforts gained a vast knowledge of English poetry. At age 16 he left school to work as a reporter on the South Wales Evening Post. His first book, 18 Poems (1934), announced a strikingly new and individual voice in English poetry.

At age 21 Thomas moved to London, and in 1937 he married Caitlin Macnamara. During these years he developed his highly original verse style, producing Twenty-Five Poems in 1936 and The Map of Love in 1939. These poems provided a great contrast to the then-prevailing taste in English literature; they were primitive and had an overtly emotional impact. Thomas' concern with sound and rhythm and his mingling of sexual imagery and biblical phrasing made his work a sensation.

By the end of the 1930s, Thomas was famous in literary circles. Debt and heavy drinking began to take their toll on him. In 1947 he suffered a sort of mental breakdown but refused psychiatric assistance. Although the Thomases moved to Oxford, he continued to work in London, adding exhaustion to his difficulties. In 1949 Thomas returned to Wales, and in the following year he took his first American tour. There were four tours--one in 1950, one in 1952, and two in 1953; while on tour he collapsed and died.

Among his best-known works are the poems collected in Deaths and Entrances (1946). More accessible than his earlier verse, these poems confirm Thomas as a religious poet; in them he often adopts a bardic tone and claims a priestlike function for the poet. In such poems as Fern Hill, Thomas exhibits complex technical discipline and verbal harmonies that are unique in English poetry. In 1952 Thomas published In Country Sleep (containing, among other notable poems, his "Do NotGo Gentle Into That Good Night") and his Collected Poems. The latter volume was an immediate success in England and the United States.

Thomas' prose is linked with his development as a poet, and his first stories, included in The Map of Love and A Prospect of the Sea (1955), are a by-product of the early poetry. But in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940), the half-mythical Welsh landscapes of the early stories have been replaced by realistically and humorously observed scenes. The poet's growing consciousness of himself and of the world around him is presented with the characteristic blend of humor and pathos which is later given such lively expression in his play Under Milk Wood (1954). Quite possibly his best-known prose is that found in his reminiscence Child's Christmas in Wales, A (1955), a celebration of the characters, events, and presents that form a child's experience of holiday.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A148924064