With sudden trepidation we take the Scottish P.O.E.T.S. Day tradition (Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday). For the glory of an early weekend, we highlight a poet, preferably disreputable, degenerate, and debauched to serve as patron and toastee as we celebrate a weeks work (almost) done. We didn’t know about Dylan Thomas. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.
It’s assumed that the owners of DylanThomas.com are fans of the Welshman. They run the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and host the Dylan Thomas Festival each Fall. They must have every book on Thomas ever written. These people have to be walking Thomas encyclopedias. They would do their best to paint him in the best possible light. Scrubbing and polishing a tarnished image isn’t easy and sometimes a scalpel must be employed to remove sections less palatable to the public. They were left with the following entry on their web site:
Dylan was born on October 27, 1914 at No 5, Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea, and died on November 9, 1953 in St Vincent’s Hospital, New York.
During his lifetime he wrote many great poems, including ‘Fern Hill’, ‘The hunchback in the park’ and of course ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’.
He is also famous for writing the ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood, and the collection of stories, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.
Wow. He seems like a nice young man. Let’s have him over for dinner.
It’s fun to poke fun because that’s what the phrase means, but consider the problem the Centre has in writing anything even mildly a hagiographic, as they surely want to do, for one of the greatest talents the English language has ever seen. Upon arriving at the hospital in New York that Thomas was to eventually die in, his wife, fresh from a transatlantic flight, said “Is that bloody man dead yet?” Years of enduring affairs can do that to a woman.
His wife, Caitlin, wrote in one of her autobiographies, “But ours was a drink story, not a love story, just like millions of others. Our one and only true love was drink.” She went on to say, “The bar was our alter.” Fitting considering that they were introduced by her lover at the time in a pub in 1936. Thomas immediately proposed. They married months later.
His slovenliness and unpredictability made him a hit with theater goers. “Would he be offensive, violent, or obscene?” asked Elizabeth Hardwick, who was somebody or something.
His last days were spent working quietly in soup kitchens, teaching the homeless to read, and comforting the sick. Just kidding. On November 3, 1953 New York was hit by smog which inflamed his chronic lung condition so he spent the day in bed at the Chelsea Hotel drinking. He roused him self to make not one, but two drinking dates before returning to the hotel. At two in the morning he left again for a drink. He returned triumphant, claiming, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!” The bartender who served him says it was less, but even half of that makes Bukowski Thomas-esque rather than the other way around. The next day he spent in bed getting injections of steroid and morphine from his physician drawing an improbable but very real connection between the lives of Dylan Thomas and Michael Jackson.
He was checked into a hospital on November 5; comatose and never to awaken. Hospital notes cite “acute alcoholic encephalopathy damage to the brain by alcohol, for which the patient was treated without response.” Once more, from his wife, “Nobody ever needed encouragement less, and he was drowned in it.”
Usually at this point I encourage you to skip out of work, call in sick, fake your own death, etc. and head down to your local and raise a glass to the weeks poet. I’m thinking this week we be good. Let’s listen to Irving Welsh instead. “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a…”
Twenty Four Years
Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)
In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor
Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun.
Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
With my red veins full of money,
In the final direction of the elementary town
I advance as long as forever is.
– Dylan Thomas
I reconsidered. Hit the bars and raise a glass to Dylan Thomas. He sure did drink.