By the summer of 1935 Dylan’s lifestyle and drinking were beginning to catch up with him. Following a visit to a doctor who suggested he should rest and lower his alcohol intake, Dylan, accompanied by his friend, the writer and editor Geoffrey Grigson, travelled to a remote cottage near Ardara in County Donegal. Grigson stayed for a couple of weeks before leaving Dylan on his own for the rest of the summer. Dylan relaxed and settled into a routine which included writing every day.
During his stay he worked on short stories and completed six poems includingI in my Intricate Image. He also grew a beard. Dylan eventually ran out of money and left without paying the farmer who owned the cottage. This resulted in a temporary falling out with Grigson and with another friend, the poet Norman Cameron, who had suggested the trip and paid off Dylan’s debt to the farmer.
I’m ten miles from the nearest human being (with the exception of the deaf farmer who gives me food), and, in spite of the sea and the lakes and my papers and my books and my cigarettes (although they’re damned hard to get, and I’ve few left of them) and my increasing obsession with the things under the skin, I’m lonely as Christ sometimes and can’t even speak to my Father on an ethereal wave-length. I came here – ‘here’ is a cottage studio, once owned by an American artist, perched in a field on a hill facing the wild Atlantic – with Geoffrey G. (Grigson), but he’s gone back to town. And here is a wild, unlettered and unfrenchlettered country, too far from Ardara, a village you can’t be too far from. Here are gannets and seals and puffins flying and puffing and playing a quarter of a mile outside my window where there are great rocks petrified like the old fates and destinies of Ireland & smooth, white pebbles under and around them like the souls of the dead Irish. There’s a hill with a huge echo; you shout, and the dead Irish answer from behind the hill…..…My days these days are planned out carefully, or at least conveniently, to the clock I haven’t got (if time is the tick of a clock, I’m living in a funny dimension, in an hourless house): I rise at nine, I breakfast and clean up till ten, I read or write from ten till one, I lunch at one, then I walk over the cliffs to the sea and stay or walk about there till half past three or four, then tea, after tea I write until the early dusk, then I climb over the hills to the high lakes and fish there until dark. Back. Supper. Bed. I have a little illegal poteen whiskey with my supper, and I smoke black shag in a bad pipe. One day a week I shall walk ten miles to Glendrumatie where there is a shop and a porter bar. It rains and it rains. (from a letter to Bert Trick, summer 1935)
In 1946 Dylan secured an advance from the magazine Picture Post to write a feature on the annual Puck Fair, which takes place in Killorglin, County Kerry. This resulted in a visit which started with four days in Dublin, arriving on August 5th 1946. Dylan was accompanied by Caitlin and their friends Bill and Helen McAlpine. The magazine piece never materialised, but the group enjoyed themselves and Dylan managed to fit in a visit to the Blasket Islands; somewhere he’d wanted to visit after having written a script,Twenty Years A-Growing, based on a memoir by Maurice O’Sullivan which is set on the islands.
We spent all our time in Dublin and in Kerry. We ate ourselves daft: lobsters, steaks, cream, hills of butter, homemade bread, chicken and chocolates: we drank Seithenyns of porter and Guinness: we walked, climbed, rode on donkeys, bathed, sailed, rowed, danced, sang…(Letter to Vernon Watkins, August 26th 1946)
We had breathless days in Ireland: four in Dublin – oh the steaks, the chickens, chocolate, cream, peaty porter, endless blarney of politics never later than 1922 – & the rest in Kerry, all wild seas and hills and Irish-reeling in kitchens. And a day on the Blasket: a very calm day, they said: the wind blew me about like a tissue-paper man, and dashed us against the donkeys.(Letter to Margaret Taylor, August 29th 1946)
Ennistymon House is a former country house in the village of Ennistymon, County Clare. It was inherited by Caitlin’s father Francis Macnamara in 1925, and during his ownership was converted into the Falls Hotel. Francis Macnamara was unable to make a success of the hotel and he leased and then sold the hotel before his death in 1946. Dylan never visited the property. The Falls Hotel has been greatly extended in recent years, but still recognises the Macnamara / Thomas connections with a Dylan Thomas bar and the staging of a Dylan Thomas Festival.
In March of 1947 Dylan received a £150 travelling scholarship from the Authors’ Society Travelling Committee with the recommendation from committee chairwoman Edith Sitwell that he should visit Italy. In April of the same year, Dylan and Caitlin; their children Llewelyn and Aeronwy; and Caitlin’s sister Brigit and her son Tobias, made the trip, arriving at Milan railway station on April 9th. The first month was spent in the municipality of Rapallo, staying in the Villa Cuba hotel at San Michele di Pagana.
Arrived here a day ago, after fearsome three days travelling with Caitlin, Brigit, Llewelyn, Aeronwy, and Tobias. One night in Milan. Rapallo is very beautiful. Blazing sun, blue sea & sky, red, pink & white villas on fir-treed hills, orange-groves, olive-trees, castles, palaces. Our hotel small, v.pretty, fifteen minutes from Rapallo… (Postcard to his parents, April 1947)
On April 24th Dylan wrote to his agent David Higham ‘It’s very lovely here; I’m working on a long poem.’ The poem was ‘In Country Sleep‘.
During their stay in Rapallo Dylan and Caitlin visited Rome for a few days, where the British Council held a party for them. They also visited Florence where they had lunch and dinner with the poet Stephen Spender after bumping into him in the street. During their visit to Florence they found a house to rent in the hills, and on May 12th their party left Rapallo for their new base.
On May 12th 1947 Dylan and his party moved to Villa del Beccaro in Mosciano, five miles from Florence. In this quieter location they socialised less, and Dylan continued to work, slowly, on his long poem ‘In Country Sleep‘.
…a little house some five miles from Florence, up in the hills, looking over the city, among pines and olives, beautifully green and peaceful, a cool, long house with a great garden & a swimming pool. The rent, in English money, was £25 for 2 1/2 months. If my money holds out until the end of July, we will, I know, be peaceful and happy there. The garden is full of nightingales and orange-trees. There are vineyards all around us. (Letter to his parents, May 1947)
Florence sparkles at night below us. In the day we see the Dome. It is perhaps five miles away. To get to the city we suffer by trap and tram. But there’s so little need to move. The pinehills are endless, the cypresses at the hilltop tell one all about the length of death, the woods are deep as love and full of goats, the house is cool & large, the children beastly, the wine ample, why should I move at all until July the 31st (Letter to Margaret Taylor, May 1947)
On May 24th Dylan writes to his agent ‘I hope to finish a radio play by the end of our stay here. But more about that later. The long poem is coming on slowly’. By July 11th he was writing to Margaret Taylor that ‘My poem, of 100 lines, is finished, but needs a few days work on it, especially on one verse’. Their stay at Mosciano ended on July 19th when they moved on to stay on the Island of Elba.
On July 20th Dylan and his party travelled to the Island of Elba, to stay at the Albergo Elba in Rio Marina.
This is a most beautiful island; and Rio Marina the strangest town on it: only fishermen and miners live here: few tourists: no foreigners. Extremely tough.(Letter to Bill and Helen McAlpine, July 1947)
They stayed on Elba until August 9th before travelling home via Florence on the 11th. The only work Dylan is known to have completed during his four month stay in Italy is the beautiful poem ‘In Country Sleep‘.
The haygold haired, my love asleep, and the rift blue
Eyed, in the haloed house, in her rareness and hilly
High riding, held and blessed and true, and so stilly
Lying the sky
Might cross its planets, the bell weep, night gather her eyes,
The Thief fall on the dead like the willynilly dew (From ‘In Country Sleep’)
Following Dylan’s death in 1953 Caitlin returned to visit Elba and later made her home in Italy.
Dylan’s first known visit to Scotland was in July 1942. Glasgow, Aberdeen
and the Highlands later appeared in his 1944 script for the film, Our Country.
He returned in 1948 to read at the Edinburgh Festival, taking part in
tributes to Hugh MacDiarmid, and staying with the writer and poet, Hector
MacIver: “I wish I could speedily return to Scotland…I appreciated a great
deal your room, spirit and company.” A year later, Dylan’s radio talk, Living in Wales, was broadcast on the Scottish Home Service (“the only
country not attacked is fortunately Scotland”).
Dylan had many Scottish friends in London, including W. S. Graham, Louis
MacNeice, the painters Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun, the dancer
Elizabeth Milton (“he rescued me when I made that awful faux pas about
thinking a lesbian was an omelette”) and the actor John Laurie, later of Dad’s
Army fame (“the Dylan I knew was a darling man”). There was, too, the
mysterious Helen, whom, he says, (in a letter to Eli Mortlake, 18 July
1953), he first met in Glasgow.
Another close Scottish friend was the poet and writer, Ruthven Todd, whose
unpublished biography of Dylan is held in the National Library of Scotland.
I’m just off to Scotland. I’ll be back in about a week. I want to write a full, long letter full of love and nothing, and I will from perhaps the wet, never-so-good-as-I-probably-think Highlands.
(Letter from Dylan July 1942)
In March 1949 Dylan accepted an invitation from the Czech government to attend the inauguration of a union for writers. He stayed in Prague, at the Hotel Flora; his trip lasting for six days. Dylan had purchased a coat for the trip, a yellow duffel coat, which was the cause of much excitement in Prague. During his stay Dylan attended a government reception and addressed the inaugural conference; he was the only British delegate. At a private party he read from his work in progress Under Milk Wood.
I arrived in Prague about 24 hours ago, was met at the airport by an elderly woman & a young man who took me to a reception in the House of Parliament where hundreds of Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Rumanians, Bulgarians & Hungarians were drinking wine….Today, hours of Congress & translators….After, more Congress & each guest made a speech. Including me. Tonight, a Smetana opera…..But Prague is so beautiful. And bitingly savagely cold; you, my love, would die of it. Tomorrow, I shall buy a small fur hat here. (Letter to Caitlin, March 1949)
In 1951, Dylan went to Iran to make a film for the Anglo – Iranian Oil Company. It was to demonstrate the things that were being done for the people of Persia by the oil company, for example the building of schools and hospitals. The film, directed by Ralph Keene, was part of the oil company’s strategy to present itself as a friend of Iran, at a time when emerging nationalism was threatening company (and British) interests. However, Dylan was horrified at the condition under which Persian people were living.