As part of my ‘Month of Letters’ blogs to mark the re-release of Dylan Thomas’s Collected Letters in two paperback volumes, here are two more letters. They were written to Dylan’s wife Caitlin Thomas in January 1951 while Dylan was in Persia on a filmmaking trip for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. I’ve chosen these particular letters because they offer an insight into how horrified Dylan was at the condition under which Persian people were living, which was in stark contrast to what he called the “horrible oil men” and the “horrible government men that sit in the lounges of posh guest houses”.
Next week will be a guest blog so I will therefore share one final letter in two weeks time.
c/o Information Department Anglo-Iranian Oil Company
Avenue Shah (Naderi) Tehran Persia
I will write to
Llewelyn & Aeron, &
my mother & father
from Abadan. My love
Cat. Write to me quickly.
I love you.
Dear Cat Catlin darling, I love you. There’s no meaning to anything without you. There’s no meaning without us being together. I love you all the day and night, and I am five thousand miles away. Until I hear from you, Cat, every minute of the day and night’s insane. I have to dope myself into nightmare sleep with tablets from Bunny’s enormous medicine-chest. I wake up before it is dawn, in this great undersea bedroom under snow-mountains, and turn the echoes of your voice over and over in the dark, and look into your blue beautiful undersea eyes five thousand miles away: they’re all that is real, the deepnesses of your eyes
The long Bunny is still in bed, groaning: he has a ‘little chill’, he says, has a huge fire in his room, two hotwaterbottles, an array all over his bedside table of syrups, pills, syringes, laxatives, chlorodyne, liniments and compresses; he uses a thermometer every hour. And I? I go with horrible oil-men to interview horrible government-men; I sit in the lounge of this posh Guest-House for horrible oil-men and listen to Scotch engineers running down the Persian wops; I go, with a pleasant Persian guide, through endless museums, palaces, libraries, cou[…] law, houses of parliament, till my […] and my boredom bleed. What for, what […] for? Only the bazaar was wonderful […] Tehran bazaar, the largest in Persia […] all the things one’s read about […] bazaars, all the bits of films of […] one’s ever seen, haggling and cursing and grinning and smelling everywhere round one: miles of covered bazaar, smelling of incense and carpets and food and poverty. And women with only their eyes showing through tattered, dirty, cobble-trailing thin black sack-wraps; or lifting their wraps high to miss the mud and showing men’s ragged trousers or baggy black bloomers; and lots of them with splayed and rotting high-heel shoes. Only the very poor—that is, the vast majority—of women wear these wrappings, not only of black but of grey, earth-brown, filthy white—and they wear them only to cover up their rags. They huddle their horrible poverty inside these chadurs as they slipslop through the foul main streets or the shouting, barging aisles of the bazaar. Often there are babies huddled in with the poverty. And beautiful dirty children in little chadurs slip-slop behind them. The poor in the streets & the bazaar wear every kind of clothing, so long as it’s dirty and wretched. Men wear little green brimless bowlers, or caps like scavenging tram-conductors’, and old army overcoats, British, German, American. Poor children all have cropped heads. Well-to-do children have their eyes darkened with kohl or mascara.
The only water for the poor in Tehran—the capital city of Persia—runs down the public gutters. I saw an old man pissing in the gutter, walking away a few yards, then cupping his hands & drinking from it. This running cesspool is the only drinking & washing water for the poor. I love you. I love you. I love you in this dirty city. I love you everywhere.
There is no nightlife at all in Tehran. Moslems are not supposed to drink, though some do. Only in one or two expensive hotels for Europeans can you buy a drink. There seems to be no fixed price for any drinks. I was charged six shillings for a bottle of beer, Bunny twelve shillings for a small whiskey. Only in welltodo houses—and in this Guest-house for oil-men—can one drink at all. In four days I have had eight pints of beer: all lager. I love you, I love you in this dry city. I love you everywhere.
Write to me quickly, darling. Tell me tell me. Shall I bring back Persian sweetmeats? (I cannot send them: they would evaporate or burst.) There are wonderful liqueur chocolates you would love. But not so much as I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you Cat.
16th January  [headed paper: Ahwaz Persian Gulf]
I do not know if this letter will reach you at all, or if my other two letters have reached you. I do not know if, whether any of these letters has reached you or will reach you, you will reply to them. I do not know anything, except that I love you. And I do not know if you love me. I love you enough for both of us, but I must know, still, if you are waiting for me, if you want me, if I may come home to you, if there is any cause for me to live. I love you, Caitlin darling dear. Perhaps my letters take very long to travel the miles between us, and so that is why I do not hear from you. Perhaps you have said: ‘He is dead to me’. And, if you say that, indeed I will be dead. I love you, love you, love you, always, always, beautiful Cat my love. What I am doing here, without word of you, I just don’t know.
Yesterday I left Tehran for Abadan, and am stopping here for the night, in an Arabian house, after a twenty-four [hour] train journey. By plane, the journey would have taken 2½ hours. And so the powerful, tireless Bunny with his immense pharmacopeia, decided to go by train. It, of course, nearly killed him; and it has done me no good either. But, if I heard from you, if I knew, for one second, that you are mine, as I am yours, that you might again love me as I love you forever, I’d travel a thousand hours on the roof of the train. I grope through the nights and days like a blind man; even English around me is an unknown language; I am writing to you, my love, my wife, my darling dear Cat, the one soul and body in the world, as though I didn’t know words: stiltedly, awkwardly. I love you. I can at least write that.
Yesterday morning, in Tehran, I went to a large hospital. In the children’s wards, I saw rows and rows of tiny little Persian children suffering from starvation: their eyes were enormous, seeing everything & nothing, their bellies bloated, their matchstick arms hung round with blue, wrinkled flesh. One of them was crying: only one. I asked the English sister why. ‘Poor little thing’, she said. ‘His mother went out every day begging in the streets, & he was too weak from hunger to go with her & she was too weak to carry him. So she left him alone in her hovel. The hovel had a hole dug in the earth floor where a fire always was; or at least hot cinders, ready for cooking. The child fell down into the fire & lay there all day burning till the mother came home at dusk. He is getting better, but he’s lost one arm & all his toes.’
After that, I had lunch with a man worth 30,000,000 pounds, from the rents of peasants all over Iran, & from a thousand crooked deals. A charming, and cultivated, man.
Now all the weather’s changed. In Tehran, it was brisk, sunny spring. A wonderful climate. Here, 24 hours nearer the Gulf, I’m sitting dead still and panting & sweating. What it’s like in the summer, Christ knows. In Tehran, they said: It will be cold down here. I brought a tweed suit & a duffle, & the temperature’s nearly a 100. There are great palm trees in this garden, & buzzards overhead. At every station of this 24-hour journey—& the stations are very odd; they cater for no-one—children rushed up to the train from the mud-hut villages: three quarter naked, filthy, hungry, and, mostly, beautiful with smiles & great burning eyes & wild matted hair: begging for the smallest coins, pieces of bread, a sweet, anything. I gave the first lot my lunch, & woof! it went in a second. I love you. So write to me please, if you value me at all. Goodnight, my love.
Oh, it would be wonderful to be with you, to be in your lovely arms, my love. It’s seven o’clock in the morning; I’m lying in bed; already it’s awfully hot; together we could be happy, we could go out into the garden in the sun, into the striped streets, on to the river banks. Yesterday evening, just before dusk, I saw four men, in long Arabian dress, squatting in a circle on a tiny mudbank in the middle of the river. The mudbank was just large enough to hold them. The sun was going down quickly, the river was rising. The four men were playing cards. Together here, or anywhere, in any dusty sunfried place, we could be happy, my dear love. I love you. I feel you & smell you, & hear you everywhere all around me. I see you in our pink house, so far away, I could yell till I die. Remember me, sweetheart. If I didn’t think that, at the end of this wandering rubbish, I’d be with you again—and we could together prepare to be somewhere else; I wrote, last week, to San Francisco—I’d melt away, saying your name, into the hot sea. I love you love you love you love you, & I am yours & you are mine. Tell me, when, & if ever, you write, how you dealt with the Princess’s cheque. If you forward letters, I will see if there is any money in the Bank & then I can send you some. BUT WRITE. I’m lost without you. Tell me about Colm, Aeron, & Llewelyn. I’ll send Llewelyn stamps of Iran. My dear!
Hannah Ellis – 2nd October 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.lovethewords.co.uk