Dylan Thomas was a prolific letter writer throughout his life.  His letters allow us to understand the process of his poetry, his connection with certain places, his relationship with his wife and parents, as well as demonstrating some of the dire financial situations he faced and his emotional struggles with both his physical and mental health.

His letters can be found in Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters, edited by Paul Ferris (1985) and published by Orion. The e-book edition is still in print and the book version is currently out of print.

 

 

Click the picture to visit the National Library of Wales online exhibition.

An excerpt from Dylan to Pamela Hansford Johnson in early December 1933.

Gower is a very beautiful peninsular, some miles from this blowsy town, and so far the Tea-Shop philistines have not spoilt the more beautiful of its bays.

I often go down in the mornings to the furthest point of Gower – the village of Rhossilli – and stay there until evening. The bay is the wildest, bleakest, and barrennest I know – four or five miles of yellow coldness going away into the distance of the sea.  And The Worm… a seaworm of rock pointing into the channel… is the very promontory of depression. Nothing live on it but gulls and rats – the millionth generation of the winged and tailed families that screamed in the air and ran through the grass when the first sea thudded on the Rhossilli beach.

There is one table of rock on the Worm’s back that is covered with long yellow grass, and, walking on it, one feels like something out of the Tales of Mystery and imagination, treading, for a terrible eternity, on the long hairs of rats. Going over that grass is one of the strangest experiences; it gives under one’s feet; it makes little sucking noises, and smells – and this, to me, is the most grisly smell in the world – like the fur of rabbits after rain.

When the tide comes in, the reef of needle rocks that leads to the base of The Worm, is covered under the water. I was trapped on The Worm once: I had gone on it early in the afternoon with a book and a bag of food and, going to the very, very end, had slept in the sun with the gulls crying like mad over me. And when I woke, the sun was going down…

I ran over the rocks, over the abominable grass, and onto that ridge overlooking the little reef. The tide had come in. I stayed on that Worm from dusk till midnight, sitting on the top grass, frightened to go further in because of the rats and because of the things I am ashamed to be frightened of.

Then the tips of the reef began to poke out of the water, and, perilously, I climbed along them onto the shore, with an eighteen mile walk in front of me.

It was a dark, entirely silent, entirely empty road: I saw everything on that walk – from snails, lizards, glow- worms and hares to diaphanous young ladies in white who vanished as I approached them…

An excerpt from Dylan to Vernon Watkins on 27 July 1944.

The Sussex months were beastly.  When it wasn’t soaking wet, I was.  Aeroplanes grazed the roofs, bombs came by night, police by day, there were furies at the bottom of the garden, with bayonets, and a floating dock like a kidney outside the window, and Canadians in the bushes, and Americans in the hair; it was a damned banned area altogether.  They worshiped dogs there, too, and when a pom was born in one house the woman put out the Union Jack…

I’ve found that I can do most of my fieldwork outside London, (which soon will be shelled terribly by things that scream into the stratosphere, passing the queen bees, and then roar on to Manresa Road), and we are looking for somewhere to live in the country.  In Laugharne, if possible.  In Wales, preferably.  And we’ll stay here, getting on my father-for he’s one bald nerve-until we find a house, a flat, a room, a sty, a release.

By the way, I have a new complain.  Itching feet.  There is nothing to see, the feet just itch.  I have to take my shoes off many times a day and rub my soles with my socks.  Ask Dan if he knows what it is – he’s learned in little woes…

Here is a poem (printed in ‘Our Time’) which perhaps you haven’t seen.  I didn’t print the Lorca lines above the poem.  Will you tell me about it?  It really is a Ceremony, and the third part of the poem is the music at the end.  Would it be called a voluntary, or is that only music at the beginning?…

I am writing poems, and have three ones I’l send you when they are typewritten and after I have heard from you about the Ceremony.

Write very soon, please, and tell me everything.

An excerpt from Dylan to Caitlin Thomas on 25 February 1950.

My darling far away love, my precious Caitlin, my wife dear, I love you as I have never loved you, oh please remember me all day and every day as I remember you here in this terrible, beautiful, dream and nightmare city which would only be any good at all if we were together in it, if every night we clung together in it. I love you, Cat, my Cat, your body, heart, soul, everything, and I am always and entirely yours.

How are you, my dear? And how is my beloved Colm and sweet fiend Aeron? Give them my love please. And how are the old ones? I’ll write to them, too. I love you, I can see you, now this minute, your face and body, your beautiful hair, I can hear your lovely, un- understandable voice. I love you, and I love our children, and I love our house…

Here, each night I have to take things to sleep: I am staying right in the middle of Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers infinitely taller and stranger than one has ever known from the pictures: I’m staying in a room, a hotel room for the promised flat did not come off, on the 30th floor: and the noise all day and night: without some drug, I couldn’t sleep at all. The hugest, heaviest lorries, police cars, fire-brigades, ambulances, all with their banshee sirens wailing and screaming, seem never to stop, and I have no idea what on earth I am doing here in the very loud, mad middle of the last mad Empire on earth: – except to think of you, and love you, and to work for us.

I have done two readings this week, to the Poetry Centre of New York: each time there was an audience of about a thousand. I felt a very lonely, foreign midget orating up there, in a huge hall, before all those faces; the readings went well.

I’ve been to a few parties, lots of American poets, writers, critics, hangers on, some very pleasant, all furiously polite and hospitable. But apart from on one occasion, I’ve stuck nearly all the time to American beer, which, though thin, I like a lot and is ice cold.

I’ve been, too, to lots of famous places: up to the top of the Empire State Building, the tallest there is, which terrified me so much, I had to come down at once;

And now it must look to you, my Cat, as though I am enjoying myself here. I’m not. It’s a nightmare, night and day; there never was such a place: I would never get used to the speed, the noise, the utter indifference of the crowds, the frightening politeness of the intellectuals, and, most of all, these huge phallic towers, up and up and up, hundreds of floors, into the impossible sky.

Books available

The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas
Edited by Paul Ferris, published by Orion

E-book edition

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The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas
Edited by Paul Ferris, published by Orion.  Currently out of print.

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The Love Letters of Dylan Thomas, 
published by Orion

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A Pearl of Great Price
The Love Letters of Dylan Thomas to Pearl Kazin,

edited by Jeff Towns

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