Thomas was essentially a poet who mused upon the everyday, the passing world. Simple day to day existence was his main subject, one in which he infused a sort of grandeur. In a way he reminded me of the U.S writer John Steinbeck, though Thomas’ work was laced with dark humour.
Though a genius, Thomas’ life was also a bit chaotic and he became addicted to alcohol, dying in New York in 1953 at the incredibly early age of 39, whilst on a performance tour of his last masterpiece, Under Milk Wood. When I visited New York, I made sure to paint The White Horse Tavern, where he had his last drink.
Under Milk Wood
In 1988 a new recording of Under Milk Wood: A Play for Voices was released.
Under Milk Wood is essentially twenty-four hours in the life of a small, coastal Welsh village, featuring numerous characters and interwoven storylines. Nothing really happens in Under Milk Wood but its world is both compelling and fascinating.
The producers rounded up almost anyone a bit famous that had a connection with Wales. Everyone from Anthony Hopkins to Mark Knopfler (born in Glasgow, Hungarian-Jewish father) and while the idea sounds a bit chaotic, the results were magical and I still listen today.
The fictional small town called llareggub (or “Bugger all” backwards), was based on where Thomas lived, Laugharne in South West Wales.
I have always intended to visit Laugharne but never quite got around to it, life just seemed to get too busy.
Then, of course, came Covid19 and we became the land of ‘Staycation’. Well, I thought, Barbados is off the menu so I might as well go to Laugharne to see what is about.
Thomas described Laugharne as ‘A very odd town, a good place, undiscovered by painters… because the sea is mostly mud and nobody knows when the water will come in or go out or where it comes from anyway. A sociable place too…with good pubs and little law.’
Well, anywhere that is undiscovered by painters with little law is certainly of interest to me and I booked a B&B.
I found out that the B&B used to be in a pub, and I was sleeping in the main bar. Thomas used to visit there and tell stories for drink. Odd to think I was sleeping where Thomas regaled. Like a ghost in the corner brandishing a cigarette.
Dylan Thomas’ Boathouse
Due to Covid, much of the attractions were closed including Browns Hotel, Thomas’s main watering hole. A bit of a pity, though it did make the town very quiet which gave it more of a sense of “place”. I am I confess one of those tourists who does not like seeing other tourists.
Looking across the bay I could see the boathouse where Thomas lived for the last four years of his life. He didn’t buy it himself, even though he was famous, poets didn’t earn much and he was a shocking money manager, so his friend Margaret Taylor purchased it for him at a cost of £2,500 in April 1949.
I sat down on a bench outside Laugharne Castle and put down a small painting of his home with watercolour and gouache. The sun was shining, and I sipped a coffee purchased from one of the few places allowed to be open.
Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed “My word-splashed hut”
Once the painting was complete I waked down the beach and climbed the steps towards the house. In normal times this is a visitors’ centre and you can go in and have a look around.
Today however it was closed so I settled myself with the shed in which Thomas wrote some his most accomplished works.
In reality it is a small garage perched on spindly stilts over a rather precipitous drop. There is a large window through which you can peer. Inside it is arranged as though Dylan has just stepped out for a walk on Sir Johns Hill. Very evocative and through the opposite window you are treated to a spectacular view of the estuary.
I had the place to myself and I painted this too.
Dylan Thomas’ grave at St Martin’s Church, Laugharne
Caitlin, Thomas’ wife had his body shipped back to the UK from New York and he was buried at St Martins Church in Laugharne. His grave is extremely easy to find as it’s a simple white wooden cross set in a field of ornate granite and slate. Very Thomas.
We can only wonder what he might have achieved if he’d lived longer.
My personal favourite poems by Dylan Thomas
• Under Milk Wood
• A Child’s Christmas in Wales
• Poem in October
• Over Sir John’s Hill