International Dylan Thomas Day

Posted by Tenby Museum on May 14, 2018 Blog No Comments

For me the words of Dylan Thomas still “flame like Fawkes fires” and I can, and do,  return to his poems, short stories, broadcasts, screenplays and play time and time again.  So 14 May is the museum’s time to celebrate International Dylan Thomas Day with a blog that salutes this giant of literature.

I shall skirt over the traditional biographical details and instead concentrate on Dylan and Tenby and also how Under Milk Wood, the cause for these international celebrations, played its part in the town’s history and vice versa.

Dylan gave two talks to the Tenby and District Arts Club, the first in November 1949 which saw him give readings form the works of contemporary poets such as WH Davies, Alun Lewis, Ezra Pound, WB Yeats and WH Auden.  In his talk he touched upon , with the colour of saying, such topics as the beauty of nature and the invasive grimness of industrial urbanisation, offering seemingly insignificant verbal fripperies on a cracked cup and in contrast contemplating the range and depth of human emotions.  A report in the Tenby & County News stated “The talk proved Dylan’s charismatic ability to bring poetry alive” and “must have won over many who were sceptical about modern poetry.”  At this time of the first reading Dylan would have been a veteran of radio broadcasting, having taken part between 1944 and 1949 in over a hundred BBC radio programmes.

The second reading was given on Friday 2 October 1953 at The Salad Bowl on the Croft.  Dylan’s by then legendary reputation as a carouser, who failed to turn up at venues where he was booked to appear had necessitated the organisers to arrange an alternative form of entertainment.  When he finally did turn up, late but sober, the large audience was part of the way through listening to a Brahms piano recital.  At first the audience extended a certain amount of hostility towards the poet who, stout and pale, lit a cigarette and pushed away the carafe of water with a certain amount of hasty disgust.  Taking out a ramshackle folder bursting with papers he proclaimed that “This is something  I’ve just finished” and began reading all the parts from Under Milk Wood.  The hostility in the room quickly subsided and The Salad Bowl was soon filled with the swaying sound of laughter and applause.  The Tenby Observer recorded that the play “shows unmistakably the fire and power of genius” and went on to suggest that “Perhaps at some future date the Tenby Arts Club may have the joy of hearing the same voice in his poems of moving beauty and vision.”

Unfortunately Dylan Thomas as never to visit Tenby again.  Within five weeks he was dead, having collapsed on a visit to New York.  He was 39 years old.  His friend Vernon Watkins, for whom Dylan’s death was a desolation, wrote in a sentiment that we must surely all agree with, “The true tragedy of Dylan Thomas’s death is that he died.  Everything else is secondary to that.”

A detail from the painting Gus & Dylan by Alec Lewis