I was surprised to learn that Laugharne, Wales is happily celebrating Dylan Thomas’s centenary this month. A small fishing village on Carmarthen Bay, Laugharne is just down the coast from the town of Carmarthen where I spent a semester abroad studying with the poet and Welsh language advocate Raymond Garlick. Though this was about twenty years after Thomas’s death in 1953, most of the locals I knew still remembered and despised Thomas for his notoriously dissolute ways and carefully cultivated English accent. Mrs. James, my landlady, deemed Thomas and his wife Caitlin “disgusting” and Thomas’s famous radio play ‘Under Milkwood’ about Laugharne “a disgrace.”
Thomas spent the summers of his childhood at his aunt’s farm called Fern Hill near Laugharne. He lived in the town off and on as an adult, and moved back there permanently with his wife Caitlin for the last four years of his life. It’s those final years, when both his and Caitlin’s drinking and carousing had reached legendary proportions, that seem to have turned law-abiding Christians in the area like my landlady against him.
So I was taken aback to read in a recent story in the New York Times that Laugharne and Wales are proudly reclaiming Thomas as their own. The mayor of Laugharne has put together “A Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk” which guides visitors to important literary Thomas landmarks in Laugharne, including Brown’s pub where the poet used to drink. My landlady must be turning over her in grave. For I fear that that’s where she and so many others who hated Thomas are now residing. The anger people used to harbor regarding Thomas’s bad behavior has been superceded by the opportunity to cash in on it. Those who actually knew him are no longer around to protest. People forget. And time holds us all “in the mercy of his means” as Thomas himself knew so well.
Click here to listen to Dylan Thomas reading Fern Hill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XG1B_7r4y8Fern Hill Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953 Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs About 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 towns And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves Trail with daisies and barley Down the rivers of the windfall light. And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home, In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be Golden in the mercy of his means, And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold, And the sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams. All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air And playing, lovely and watery And fire green as grass. And nightly under the simple stars As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away, All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars Flying with the ricks, and the horses Flashing into the dark. And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all Shining, it was Adam and maiden, The sky gathered again And the sun grew round that very day. So it must have been after the birth of the simple light In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm Out of the whinnying green stable On to the fields of praise. And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long, In the sun born over and over, I ran my heedless ways, My wishes raced through the house high hay And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs Before the children green and golden Follow him out of grace, Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand, In the moon that is always rising, Nor that riding to sleep I should hear him fly with the high fields And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land. Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Wow! To hear Thomas read is fantastic. I was never a lover of poetry — and it is still not my favorite form — until I took a class a Michigan with Donald Hall. Not only was he an amazing poet and teacher, but his poetry readings were truly spell bounding. You can’t help but love it, when you hear it.
How lucky of you to have taken a class with Donald Hall! It’s so true about having poems read aloud, Susan. There are many poets I don’t really understand until I hear their work. Also, especially with someone like Dylan Thomas, you can then hear the music in the words which is harder to get on the printed page.