|Dylan and Caitlin Thomas - Photo, Dylan Thomas Society|
"Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning, in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino; in Ocky Milkman's loft like a mouse with gloves; in Dai Bread's bakery flying like black flour. It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot. text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies .......
Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Come closer now.
Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night. Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms and petticoats over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth, Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the dead. Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams.
From where you are, you can hear their dreams."
Dylan Thomas was extraordinarily gifted, but also with a strong compulsion towards self-destruction. He drank excessively, and died at the age of 39. His wife was a dancer - formerly a model for Augustus John (who was a family friend) and raped by John at a very young age. Caitlin too had a problem with alcohol. The stormy relationship between the Thomas's was beautifully explored in the BBC film A Poet in New York - the events of the last few months of his life taken directly from Caitlin's own autobiographies, Leftover Life to Kill and Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas, also Not Quite Posthumous Letters to my Daughter, and a journal that she kept during her marriage.
After Dylan's death in 1953, Caitlin moved to Italy and lived with a film director much younger than herself, giving birth to a son called Francesco when she was 49. She died in Sicily in 1994 aged 80. I find her life absolutely fascinating.
And yes, I do know all about Dylan Thomas's verbal excesses (much disapproved of in university circles!) but even now I get goosebumps when I read the last lines of Fern Hill
"Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea."
I didn't know what it meant when I was 16, but I do now.
If you want to listen to Richard Burton reading Under Milkwood, this is the YouTube link.
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