Go to YouTube and search for Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas – listen to Burton reading Under Milk Wood as the soundtrack to a VW ad. It’s an incredible combination of Welshness applied to dark, brooding footage. Thomas has been dead for 55 years but his legend lives on. He remains an inspiration to readers, writers, poets, drinkers, Welshmen and women, moviemakers and advertizing agencies.
The just-released movie The Edge of Love (just in the UK, sorry America) – starring Matthew Rhys, Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller – is once again putting Thomas in the spotlight. Will another generation pick up his work? We hope so. Will today’s teenagers comprehend Thomas’ legacy? Perhaps. Will they understand why The Beatles felt compelled to put the writer on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or why Robert Zimmerman renamed himself Bob Dylan? Probably not.
Dylan Marlais Thomas is best remembered for penning the play, Under Milk Wood, and some of the finest poetry of the 20th century. In many ways, he was a classic romantic poet, a throwback, even though the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s could never be described as romantic decades. He was born in Swansea and died on New York. He published 18 Poems in 1934, his first volume of poetry, and gained a following that grew and grew.
In 1936, he published Twenty-five Poems, which included And Death Shall Have No Dominion – another poem that has been highlighted as one of his finest. The collection examined Thomas’ attitudes to religion and nature and ensured his statue of a unique writing talent.
In 1946, he released Deaths and Entrances and it became one of his most acclaimed collections of poetry. Fern Hill is often picked out from Deaths and Entrances for its remembrance of Thomas’s youth.
His readings – with this booming voice and Welsh lilt – became the hottest tickets in town on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 1950s.
Under Milk Wood - inspired by an early morning walk in the Welsh seaside town of New Quay - came at the end of his short life and the famed radio version starring Burton was broadcast in 1954 after Thomas’s death from chronic alcohol poisoning. When Under Milk Wood became a movie in 1972, Elizabeth Taylor joined Burton in the cast – those 1970s superstars Burton and Taylor uttering Thomas’ famous words.
His depth and quality of his poetry has simply not faded. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night from 1951 can be quoted word for word by countless fans – the poem was written for Thomas’ dying father.
His work is highly collectible on the rare book market and deep pockets are needed to pick up Thomas memorabilia. A 1934 first edition of 18 Poems is available for more than $20,000. A signed 1940 first edition of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog is available for $11,000. Even Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne in Carmarthenshire - one of Thomas’ favourite drinking haunts - has been bought by English actor Neil Morrissey, an ardent fan of the writer.
The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village where he drank on the night of his death, Hotel Chelsea where he collapsed into a fatal coma, Laugharne and its cemetery where he is buried, and his hometown haunts in Swansea are all still powerful reminders of Thomas. Famed for his drinking and his chaotic relationship with his wife Caitlin as well as his writing, Thomas ticks every box of the classic poet - brilliant, troubled, flawed, enduring and timeless. He failed to reach the age of 40.
Top 10 most expensive Dylan Thomas books sold on AbeBooks: