Thomas, Dylan (dĭlˈən) [key], 1914–53, Welsh poet, b. Swansea. An extraordinarily individualistic writer, Thomas is ranked among the great 20th-century poets. He grew up in Swansea, the son of a teacher, but left school at 17 to become a journalist and moved to London two years later. His Eighteen Poems, published in 1934, created controversy but won him immediate fame, which grew with the publication of Twenty-five Poems (1936), The Map of Love (1939; containing poetry and surrealistic prose), The World I Breathe (1939; also containing some prose), Deaths and Entrances (1946), and In Country Sleep and Other Poems (1952).
The prose Thomas published is fragmented into stories and sketches, many autobiographical or pseudo-autobiographical, all touched with fantasy; they are collected in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940), Adventures in the Skin Trade (1955), and Quite Early One Morning (1955). He had a remarkable speaking voice, flexible and resonant, and his radio readings over the BBC were popular. In addition he wrote for the radio A Child's Christmas in Wales (published 1954) and his striking dramatic work, Under Milk Wood (published 1954), which records life and love and introspection in a small Welsh town.
Thomas's themes are traditional—love, death, mutability—and over the years he seemed to pass from religious doubt to joyous faith in God. His complex imagery is based on many sources, including Welsh legend, Christian symbolism, witchcraft, astronomy, and Freudian psychology; the private myth he created makes his early poetry hard to understand. Yet his sure mastery of sound (perhaps related to his fine voice), his warm humor, and his robust love of life attract the reader instantaneously.
Thomas greatly enjoyed his success but lived recklessly and drank heavily. His third highly popular tour of the United States ended in his death, which was brought on by alcoholism. The autobiography of Thomas's wife, Caitlin Thomas, Leftover Life to Kill (1957), and the account of the Thomases' tours by J. M. Brinnin, Dylan Thomas in America (1955), vividly describe his last years.
See his Collected Poems (1953); his letters, ed. by C. FitzGibbon (1967); his notebooks, ed. by R. Maud (1967); biographies by C. FitzGibbon (1965), J. Ackerman (1965), and A. Lycett (2004); studies by W. Y. Tindall (1962), W. T. Moynihan (1966), and R. Kidder (1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.