October 24, 2017
"Child Dylan"On this day in 1933 Dylan Thomas's "The force that through the green fuse" was published. It is one of his most anthologized poems, and its publication in a London newspaper just two days after Thomas's nineteenth birthday would cause the scholar William Empson to mark the calendar: "what hit the town of London was the child Dylan publishing 'The force that through the green fuse' ... and from that day he was a famous poet." This comment confirms what biographer Paul Ferris (Dylan Thomas, rev. ed. 2000) says: that sooner or later everyone who writes about Thomas arrives at "child." The poem makes child-man connections, too:
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever....
Thomas's first love was Pamela Hansford Johnson, later wife of C. P. Snow. She has written that she, and her family, loved Thomas as one would a child, and despite "Comrade Bottle." Wife Caitlin said that, until the end, she was willing to run Thomas's bath and give him his tray of sweets every night, no matter what. The list of things he would do or not do were endless, and of such thorough irresponsibility as to be almost funny: desert his rooftop shift as fire-watcher during WWII to have sex in his fire-watcher's cot; pawn this friend's possessions or not show up to be best man at that friend's wedding; not only not show up to bring Caitlin home after the birth of their second child but let her come home alone to "dirty dishes everywhere, empty beer bottles, cigarette ends strewn all over the carpet, old newspapers thrown here, there and everywhere; I only had to take one look at our crumpled bed to realize that Dylan had had some other woman in it while I'd been in hospital."
Thomas would sometimes regret his childishness, and the myth he had made of his childhood. He described the famous Augustus John portrait as his "fucking cherub painting." In America he told his audience that he'd so over-told and over-painted his "whole wing-gonging Welsh sing-songing world" that it seemed to belong to someone else. In his last letters to Caitlin she was his "Cattle-Anchor"; during his last days in America, and not just when drunk, he would weep for missing her. She was usually left behind in "the buggering Boat House," although her last letter to him was from London -- written just about twenty years to the day after "The force that through the green fuse" was published there to such acclaim, and mailed just three days before Thomas went into a coma. In it, she said that she had had enough, and "please consider yourself free as shit." He never got it.
Caitlin liked to drink too, and share her cot. Her daughter -- the one whose first glimpse of home was of the mess her dad had made of it -- said she was "amoral." But on the day she got the telegram from New York saying Thomas had been hospitalized, Caitlin was back in Laugharne, in the school hall, listening to a pre-recorded radio broadcast of her husband talking about the town's special charm.
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