Dylan Thomas in Laugharne

Interior of Dylan Thomas's writing shed in Laugharne

In July 1936 Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara met again (the first time after their week at the Eiffel hotel in Fitzrovia, London) at Castle House, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, the home of novelist Richard Hughes (author of A High Wind in Jamaica).

This was not by chance. Dylan had persuaded Fred Janes to drive him to Laugharne (pronounced 'Larn'), knowing that Caitlin was there with Augustus John. After this meeting Dylan wrote:

“ I love you Caitlin. I love you more than anyone in the world …. Write to me very soon, and tell me you really meant the things you said about loving me too; if you don’t I shall cut my throat or go to the pictures.”
(15 July 1936)

In May 1938 Dylan and Caitlin, now married, returned to Castle House, and Hughes allowed Dylan to write in the gazebo on the ramparts of the ruined Laugharne Castle, which he was also renting.

The couple rented Eros, a small fisherman’s cottage in Gosport Street, but in August moved to Sea View, behind the Castle in July. It was here that Dylan wrote most of the prose and poems of The Map of Love (1939) and the largely autobiographical short stories in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940). Caitlin recalled the five months they stayed here as "happiest period of our lives together".

Dylan Thomas at the Boathouse, laugharne

The family returned to Laugharne in April 1949 to The Boathouse ('my sea shaken house on a break neck of rocks' ), bought for them by Margaret Taylor who, to the chagrin of her then husband the historian AJP Taylor, had appointed herself Dylan Thomas’ patron.

For Dylan's parents they rented 'The Pelican' a large house opposite Brown's Hotel, built at the turn of the 19th century and originally a public house.

His father's health began to decline in 1951, and the sight of his father ill at the Pelican informs one of Dylan's greatest poems, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night:’

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The poem is often read at funeral services, and was read by Seamus Heaney at Ted Hughes’ funeral in 1997.

The Boathouse remained the family home for the rest of Dylan’s life. After his death in 1953 Margaret Taylor put the house in trust for Caitlin and the children. In 1973 Caitlin sold the house, and in 1975 it was opened as a memorial.

The Boathouse is now open to visitors. For details see Dylan Thomas Boathouse.

Exterior of the writing shed (picture: Rex)

After their son Colm was born in July 1949 a garage hut, elevated on props on the steep hillside above the sea, became Dylan’s writing shed. Here he continued to work on Under Milk Wood (which at that time was called ‘The Town That Was Mad’) and wrote many of his most famous poems, such as ‘Over Sir John’s Hill’, ‘In Country Sleep’ and ‘Lie still, sleep becalmed’:

Under the mile off moon we trembled listening
To the sea sound flowing like blood from the loud wound
And when the salt sheet broke in a storm of singing
The voices of all the drowned swam on the wind.

Poem in October

Dylan and Caitlin Thomas at Brown's Hotel (late 1930s)

Dylan's 'Poem in October', describes a stroll around Laugharne on his 30th birthday:

The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall

There is now a walking trail that you can follow, based on the poem, with information boards at all the best viewpoints of the ‘heron-priested shore.’ If it's your birthday (and you can prove it!), you can enjoy the two mile walk and claim many free gifts from businesses in town, including a free pint at Brown's Hotel and free entry to the Boathouse. You can read full details at Dylan's Birthday Walk.

See, below, a short video about the walk, and a recording of Dylan Thomas reading 'Poem in October.'

It was from the Boathouse that Dylan left for New York for what turned out to be his last tour of poetry readings and talks. Arriving in the city on 20th October 1953, this tour has become the stuff of legend, not least due to Dylan's own talent for self-mythologising.

Dylan Thomas died in New York on 9th November 1953, less than a month after his 39th birthday. 

Dylan's death was widely attributed to massive drinking binges. For example returning to the Chelsea Hotel on 2nd November he declared "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record!" However, the barman and the owner of the White Horse pub where he had been drinking later commented that Thomas could not have imbibed more than half that amount. It is now believed that Dylan had been suffering from bronchitis, pneumonia and emphysema in the period before his death. 

Dylan's body was returned to Wales and he was buried on 24th November 1953 at St. Martin’s Churchyard, Laugharne. Caitlin, who died in 1994, is buried beside him.

Dylan Thomas in New York

There is a remarkable recording of Dylan Thomas speaking at  the 'Cinema 16' symposium 'Poetry and the Film' in New York. This event took place on October 28 1953, less than two weeks before his untimely death, and turned out to be his penultimate public appearance.  Other participants included Arthur Miller, Maya Deren, Parker Tyler and Willard Maas. In the recording (below) Dylan can be heard gently mocking the pretensions of the evening's topic, much to the amusement of the audience.

To Dylan Thomas in Marshfield

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