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New Symbol

Dylan Thomas


Thomas has become the new symbol for a changing Wales
  • Fifty years after his death, Thomas has become the unlikely symbol of modern Wales.
  • Thomas’ “play for voices”, Under Milkwood won the competition for an essay about Wales, given by the European Commission.  Under Milkwood was the only work of Welsh literature considered to have continent-wide appeal.
  • Until recently Under Milkwood was viewed with disdain by the Welsh.
    • It was written in English, which displeased the more ardent nationalists
    • Generally, his depiction of the everyday hypocrisies of the seaside town of Llareggub was considered to be cheap and unpatriotic
    • Thomas’ own lifestyle, which culminated in his early death in New York from alcohol poisoning, is an abomination to church goers
  • As Wales changed over the years, Thomas has been gaining popularity, and a recent poll conducted in December 2003 put Thomas in the lead in the “creative” section
  • Language and politics became less pressing issues, and Welsh talents were free to tackle more universal issues
  • The cinema shows the Welsh beginning to laugh at themselves and enjoying it.  For example, Twin Town (1997) is a more modern and more cynical Under Milkwood.
  • Welsh authors show that they can write the same anarchic, postmodern literature as their Celtic cousins in Glasgow and Dublin.  There are also novels of subtlety and psychological insight that reflect on the condition of Britain as a whole.
  • This is what Thomas did.  He turned his back on the political themes of his contemporaries such Auden.
  • He pursued his own poetic vision: exploring his body and its relationship with the universe, becoming obsessed with the passage of time and the finality of death.
  • Before WWII, he rejected the co-option by the Apocalyptics, the Romantic group of poets.
  • Many Welsh people felt abandoned by him and were unforgiving.
  • He was modern in straddling two cultures.  In Wales he referred to himself as an Englishman, and in England he said he was a Welshman.  This sense of being separate helped him inject inventiveness into the English Language.
  • Thomas was a crossover figure, bridging the gap between high and low culture, written and oral traditions, individual and performance act, the academy and the forum.  His inspiration was firmly grounded in Wales.