My birthday began with the waterbirds

27 October 2014

The Welsh poet – Dylan Marlais Thomas – was born in Swansea on this day in 1914. The son of a schoolmaster, Dylan worked as a journalist before publishing his first book of poems at the age of just twenty. His works include Under Milk Wood – a radio ‘play for voices’ which was first broadcast by the BBC in 1954 – and the rather oddly titled autobiographical short-story collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, which was published in 1940.

Under Milk Wood has become a classic: in Thomas’ characteristic poetic style, he paints a humorous portrait of a Welsh seaside town as the people go about their daily lives. The characters include the fastidious Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, blind Captain Cat, would-be wife murderer Mr Pugh and the promiscuous Polly Garter!

Although Thomas was appreciated as a popular poet in his lifetime, he found earning a living as a writer challenging, which resulted in his augmenting his income with reading tours and broadcasts.In the 1950s, he travelled to America, where his readings brought him a level of fame. His time in America cemented Thomas’ legend, where he recorded works such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales to vinyl.

Dylan was known for his exuberant and flamboyant behaviour. During his fourth trip to New York in 1953, he became gravely ill and fell into a coma from which he did not recover. Thomas died on 9 November 1953 from chronic alcohol abuse. His body was returned to Wales where he was buried at the village churchyard in Laugharne.

Despite writing exclusively in English, Dylan Thomas has been acknowledged as one of the most important Welsh poets of the twentieth century and is noted for his ‘original, rhythmic and ingenious use of words and imagery’.

In ‘Poem in October’ (1946), he wrote:

My birthday began with water-

Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name

Above the farms and the white horses

And I rose

In rainy autumn

And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.

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