Dylan had great admiration for D.J and hugely respected him. My grandmother remembers him being devastated following the loss of his father.
“Dylan had always written poetry not only to please himself but also his father.”
We can certainly, in part, thank D.J for Dylan Thomas’s magical poetry. He ensured there were opportunities and resources available to his son to help him discover the joys of literature. A friend of Dylan’s, Bert Trick, described visiting the family home.
“Every room you went into in the Thomas’ house was strewn with books. Even in the kitchen, they’d be under the kitchen table, up on the sideboard, piled with books.”
There was also his father’s study where Dylan spent much of his time revelling in its rich and up-to-date collection and he would use his new found knowledge to experiment with the techniques of other poets. Dylan talked about this in an interview many years later.
“My proper education consisted of my liberty to read whatever I cared to. I read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes hanging out like stalks.”
My grandfather was fortunate enough to have had his own personal tutor who shared his love of literature with his son. D.J was a well-educated man having gained a first-class honours degree in English from Aberystwyth. From the time Dylan could talk his father began to impart in him a love of the English language. Dylan Thomas owed his father a great deal for his patient efforts.
It was not just Dylan that benefitted from D.J’s instruction. As Senior English Master at Swansea Grammar School he cared passionately about his subject, in fact he wrote poetry himself, and his standard of teaching was high. He had a reputation for getting boys into Oxford and Cambridge. He regularly read poetry aloud in the classroom, another skill his young son learnt from him.
“All the boys who were with me at school, and who have spoken to me since, agree that it was his reading that made them, for the first time, see that there was, after all, something in Shakespeare and all this poetry.”
Unfortunately D.J spent many years battling poor health. It began in summer 1933 when he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat after a dentist noticed an ulcer under his tongue and he travelled to London to have painful treatment with radium needles. Dylan was distraught and there was a distinct change in the style of his poetry at this time. Though interestingly it did not affect his output, in fact Dylan was writing furiously and thirteen poems of his first collection, 18 Poems , came from the notebook that was started in August 1933. D.J improved but he was forced to retire from teaching.
While living in Laugharne in the early 1950s, despite his deteriorating health, D.J was still able to enjoy a love of words with his son. They would spend the morning together completing The Times cryptic crossword. Then, in the afternoon, Dylan was writing his poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night’ for his dying father who was slowly losing his eyesight. He wrote to Princess Caetani.
“The only person I can’t show (the enclosed) poem to is, of course, my father, who doesn’t know he’s dying.”
Dylan’s father was the man that introduced his son to poetry and showed him the power of words and the mysteries that language holds.
Hannah Ellis – 16th December 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.lovethewords.co.uk