Dylan Thomas

18 Shots of Whiskey
Working Draft : Still Under Construction

     When Dylan Thomas was alive alcoholism was not a well known disease. Dylan Thomas was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who drank a lot. On one of his final speaking trips to New York, he began drinking heavily, and was unable to stop vomiting during a rehearsal of Under Milk Wood. A doctor, Milton Feltenstein, treated him, and he made efforts to cut down his alcohol intake but nothing could sober him up. On October 26, 1954 he called his companion Elizabeth Reitell from a hotel bar. When she arrived, Dylan was drunk on whisky and raving at the assembled guests. A week of further binges was to follow (www.bbc.co.uk/ 1). On November 4, Thomas got really hammered and claimed he took eighteen shots of whiskey, the next morning he woke up and drank two beers (Sinclair 304). This reckless behavior was a strong contrary to the moods and emotions in his works.
     Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales, on Oct. 27, 1914. His father was a schoolteacher and his mother came from a Welsh farming family. His first name, Dylan, means "tide" in Welsh. All of his formal education was received at Swansea Grammar School. At 16 he quit school and worked as a reporter and writer (Deese 2-6). Thomas' first published poem appeared in a magazine when he was 17. In 1932 he won a poetry prize and went to London to collect it and to meet other writers. His wit and love of company won him many friends during the time he spent moving back and forth between London and Laugharne, a South Wales port. He wrote poetry in sessions of hard work between drinking bouts. His first book, called '18 Poems', was published in 1934 when he was 20 years old. Many critics received it enthusiastically, though the general public did not like it. In 1936 he married Caitlin Macnamara and went on to have two sons and one daughter. In April 1940 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog was published and in September, Dylan began working for Strand Films which he continued for the duration of World War II. He also published many short stories, wrote film scripts, broadcast stories and talks, did a series of lecture tours in the United States and wrote "Under Milkwood", the radio play for voices. In 1949, he began frequent visits to the US, touring colleges to read poetry. Dylan went on to win the Foyle Prize in 1953. Dylan’s life came to a sudden end during his fourth lecture tour of the United States in 1953, a few days after his 39th birthday. After a long period of depression and heavy drinking, he collapsed in his New York hotel. Dylan Thomas died on November 9th at St Vincents Hospital. Alcohol poisoning was labeled as the cause of death. Thomas’ body was sent back to Laugharne, Wales, where his grave is marked by a simple wooden cross (Brinnin 2-8).
      Composing over fifty works, giving speeches on the radio, and going on several tours in United States, Thomas was able to make the most of his short lived life. He is sometimes known for his brilliant use of metaphors, meter, and comic wit, however, he is most commonly known for his coriographed words splattered on paper. When Thomas writes he usually uses Welsh legend, Christian symbolism, witchcraft, astronomy and Freudian psychology (Whatman1). Under Milk Wood is probably Thomas’ most widely read play. The play starts with the line “To begin at the beginning: It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and- rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.”(Under Milk Wood 1). The use of imagery and metaphor seems to jump from the Welsh writers’ soul to the page where they then paint a picture for the reader’s mind. Under Milk Wood is Dylan Thomas' most famous and enduring. It is now enoyed around the world in over 50 languages. A favorite since it's first broadcast with Richard Burton in January 1954, Under Milk Wood brilliantly conveys the intimate dreams and innermost desires of the inhabitants of Llareggub - a small fictional sea-town somewhere in Wales. It is “bawdy and beautiful, sad and sensual, and, through the music of language, creates indelible, unforgettable images of humanity”(Ackerman 68). The BBC calls the play "Absolutely wonderful... Intensely therapeutic, intensely uplifting. A tour de force of this man's talent... Guy Masterson is something exceptional." While reading this piece and any other piece by Dylan Thomas, it is essential to read the words aloud, hitting every vowel and consonant, and worrying about what it all means later (Deese 1).
     Thomas is accepted as a modern writer, however, there is no consenus among critics as to what kind of poetry he wrote. He has been described as a surrealist, a primitive, a Welsh bard, and a metaphysical poet. Critics considered Thomas’ poems to be the best of his times and compared his works to those of Byron and Keats (Deese 2). Many critics also believe that his reputation was inflated during his brief lifetime yet his works still remain popular. A few critics believe that Thomas’ method was a camouflage of themes under big words and rhythm (Deese 3). Although he may have recieved mixed reviews from the critics, he achieved much notoriety during his lifetime. According to the BBC, even though he had some fame during his life he recieved very little financial gain and his work was not truely appreciated until after his untimely death.
     Dylan Thomas should not be remebered for his name or how he lived his life but for the power of his words. In his own words Thomas discribes himself as “One: I am a Welshman; Two: I am a Drunkard; Three: I am a lover of the human race, especially of women.”

Works Cited

Ackerman, John. Dylan Thomas: His Life and Work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1986.
BBC. Dylan Thomas: Biography. 1 March 2004.<http://www.bbc.co.uk/
Brinnin, John Malcolm. Casebook on Dylan Thomas. New York: Crowell, 1960.
City and Council of Swansea. Dylan Thomas. 10 March 2004. <http://www.swansea.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=1613>.
Deese, Lauren. Dylan Thomas, "The Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive". 1 March 2004. <http://www.popsubculture.com/pop/bio_project/
Sinclair, Andrew. Dylan the Bard: Alife of Dylan Thomas. Pennsylvania: Diane Publishing Co., 1999.
Whatman, Warrick D.G. Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953). 1 March 2004.