“a demagogic Welsh masturbator who failed to pay his bills”

So Robert Graves, one of Dylan Thomas’s contemporaries, described him. But what do you think? In a letter to a friend, Thomas himself wrote that the difficulty, or “obscurity”, of his poetry was based “on a preconceived symbolism derived (I’m afraid all this sounds wooly and pretentious) from the cosmic significance of the human anatomy.” He also identified in his poetry an “immature violence, rhythmic monotony, frequent muddle-headedness, and a very much overweighted imagery that leads often to incoherence.” Would you agree with Thomas’s own negative estimate of his own work here? Or with those critics who argue that Thomas has been over-rated? Or, having heard Thomas read, do you find his poems powerful and moving? Do they operate at a level very different to that of the rational, logical mind? Or do you have different feelings about different poems of his?

Below are some links related to Dylan Thomas that you may find interesting, useful or amusing. If you find any others, do please add them below. Of course, the library remains your best resource!

DT CAITLIN SEAVIEW SUMMERSYou can hear the original broadcast of Under Milk Wood, Thomas’s radio play,  here. The first voice you hear is that of Richard Burton, another great Welshman.

I mentioned in class the great Welsh tradition of singing: here’s Dunvant Male Voice Choir performing one of the poems from Under Milk Wood on the Welsh coast.

A useful, short critical biography of Thomas on the Poetry Foundation website.

A review of three books on Dylan Thomas that discusses the critical debate over the value of Dylan Thomas’s poetry.

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6 Responses to “a demagogic Welsh masturbator who failed to pay his bills”

  1. bmk20800440 says:

    I agree that there is rhythmic monotony in Thomas’s poetry, but I do not think this a shortcoming of his poetry. On the contrary, I think that this aspect of his writing creates a mantra-like poetry which ushers the reader into an almost religious realm. I also agree that the imagery he uses is quite difficult – and perhaps impossible at times – to decipher, but this again is a positive for me, because I believe that the images we cannot make any apparent sense of work on a different level and work subliminally, subconsciously, or however you wish to name it. This is in fact similar to our experience of learning our mother tongue; because we learn and imitate speech but do not engage in a linguistic study of our mother tongue, the experience of this acquisition brings to us a flood of images that we internalize over time and that play a role in our psyche – as well as is the national psyche – without our noticing their role or understanding their meaning. Because Thomas’s poetry manages to convince the reader through its sometimes monotonous rhythm which soothes the logical agent inside us, and makes us accept his words as readily as we, as children, listen to our parents/surroundings and imitate them without question, I think his poetry is successful, though perhaps it is lacking in any obvious meaning. But then poetry is a condensed form and Thomas would probably have written novels, or even essays if he meant to convey an obvious message.

  2. ie20902343 says:

    I think Thomas’ poetry just works on another level. Not every kind of poetry has to be logical and cohorent. As we discussed in the class, I think the energy in his poems is very powerful and moving. Together with the magical rhytm of sounds he uses, the words are like fragments. Although they may sound incoherent or meaningless, they actually create some kind of unity that rational or logical poetry, and I think it makes it very special. For this reason, i find the poems we’have read as between Romantic and Modernist. To add, the rhythm he uses is very influential. I believe it is nice to ponder on the words and meaning of the poem first and then listen to them. Once the meaning is grasped, they should be listened to, as listening the poem by Thomas makes one to feel the energy and the ambiance of his poetry.

  3. Thomas’ poetry is really powerful and energetic although sounds he uses can be thought meaninglessly. This is one of the biggest sample of modernist and romanticism.

  4. metanoeia says:

    Thanks for your comments! Some intelligent defences of Thomas’s poetry here. I should perhaps correct one possible misunderstanding. Most critics have regarded Dylan Thomas as more of a New Romantic (or a New Apocalyptic) poet, than a modernist. Some have argued that Thomas is more influenced by the modernists than has been supposed. For example, parallels have been drawn between Thomas’s use of imagery and that of the surrealists. However, if you want to claim that Thomas lies somewhere between Romantic and Modernist tendencies, you need to say why – which elements are Romantic (the faith in the curative power of Nature? the ultimately optimistic view of Man?) and which are Modernist (the verbal experimentation? the surrealist element to his imagery? – which is disputed). It is interesting to speculate what modernists such as T.E. Hulme and Ezra Pound would have thought of Thomas’s use of language, with their insistence on the ‘hard’, ‘clear’, ‘exact’ word, and their rejection of ‘vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous’.

  5. nimetpoyraz20900260 says:

    After I have read some critics on Thomas’s poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”, I am surprized his use of the theme of death in his poetry. In this poem he fights against the pwer of death, since he thinks death will not be able to a master of life any more. The critic, James A. Davies talks about Thomas’ works and he states, “Walford Davies considered that the poem illustrates a central theme in Thomas’ work, that death is to an extent overcome by the dead person entering the natural cycle” (Davies 132). His expression reveals that death can be overcome by people and it is not an end since death means a union with nature for Thomas. ‘The natural cycle’ can be connected to the cycles of each stanza, because each stanza begins and ends with the same striking sentence “And shall have no dominion” and they create cycles. In this poem these cycles can be associated with the cycle of life. This poem shows Thomas accepts the reality of death but he does not regard it as an end and he sees it as a continuation of existence in nature.

  6. As we talked in class, Dylan Thomas was writing poems to be read in a radio show. So, it is obvious that his style is purely ryhtmic. I think Dylan Thomas’ images and allusions are incredibly vague and almost impossible to understand at times. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that he sacrifices content for the form and the rythm in order to be appealing to the ear. This ,on the other hand, does not make his poetry empth and meaningless. On the contrary, it gives a room for imagination of the reader to make something out of his poetry, so there might be several totally different interpretations of a single line written by him. The fact that he says “immature violence, rhythmic monotony, frequent muddle-headedness, and a very much overweighted imagery that leads often to incoherence” about his poetry is like saying that all the symbolic ambiguity is intentional and you have to deal with it.

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