National Poetry Day is on Thursday and the theme this year is Messages. Now, there really is so much I want to write on this one, but, as always, there are very few words to do it in.




So let’s get going and begin with Dylan’s letters. There are hundreds upon hundreds to choose from. Where on earth do I start? Well let me kick off by saying that they are examples of poetry in themselves. They are beautiful handwritten communication between family and friends. They are filled with kindness, sensitivity and compassion. Oh yes, and a great deal of mischief and humour.


These letters completely challenge the roaring Welsh boyo image we often see in the tabloid newspapers. The picture of a wild, wide eyed celebrity, peeing in lifts and destroying hotel rooms, has followed Dylan Thomas around, like a pungent, unwelcome smell since his death – tragically young unfortunately, which surely only feeds the legend.

Though, I urge you to air on the side of caution, before fully blaming the media as the main culprit for reinventing Dylan as a drunken, rather vulgar, lout.  Having said that, their portrayal of him has been consistently negative and they do rather enjoy bringing out the same old, same old (yawn) unreliable stories that reinforce the myth.

I believe that the conception of the character (loathed or loved) that we all closely associate with Dylan Thomas can also be laid firmly at my grandfather’s own door. Early on in his career, the creation of the doomed, young man was vital – one with ‘galloping consumption’ if at all possible – as this is the behaviour he believed was ‘expected’ of a poet. The out of control curly hair, long scarves and bohemian outfits only added to it all. And then, poor Dylan, unfortunately, suddenly found himself having to live up to that role. ‘Instant Dylan,’ as people that knew him well called it.



Yet, as you read his delicately written and private (not so any more) letters, with his thoughts and emotions on display, it is logical really that this innocent and introverted child created a persona to try and fit in. Through his collected letters, a tomb of a book, you see and hear from a gentle soul (the ‘real’ Dylan maybe, though who he is I don’t think we’ll ever truly know), the man behind the myth. He’s a vulnerable young boy… fearful and confused by the scary world around him.

And my goodness, the world was an alarming place to live during his short life with two world wars, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, the holocaust and the threat of nuclear attack to name but a few. There is letter after letter of him attempting to articulate his feelings about what he is seeing, in the best way he knows how, the medium of the written language.

What have we got to fight for or against? To prevent Fascism coming here? It’s come? To stop shit by throwing it? To protect our incomes, bank balances, property, national reputations? I feel sick. All this flogged hate again.

(Letter, 24th September 1939)

“…Women wear these wrappings, not only of black but grey, earth brown, filthy-white – and they wear them to cover 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.”

(Letter, January 1951, from Iran)

But it’s as I read his later letters, from about 1950, that I am faced with uncomfortable emotions – a sense of foreboding – as I sadly observe the demise of my grandfather’s mental and physical health…the ominous stepping-stones to his last fateful days. He feels like a “voice on wheels…hardly living”, especially as his inability to hold onto money has left him in terrible debt. There are multiple letters requesting financial support.

And then, with a wallop, come the letters that catch me off guard.


(Telegram, 17 October 1953, from London)

“Thank you for your reply. Yes, certainly, the Friday previous to 19 March 1954 would suit me very well to come along to Lampeter: – I quite understand about your not being able to pay a big fee, but I’m afraid I must ask for five guineas on top of my expenses. Please do let me know if you manage this. And, incidentally, what a long time ahead you do plan! I hope we’re not all dead by then.”

(Letter, June 20 1953)

He made the flight on the 19th (if only he hadn’t!) and he didn’t make the Lampeter engagement as he died in New York on November 9th 1953.


I want to carry on. I could tell you more about the contents of his letters including the desperate pleas to my grandmother, his caring concern for his ill father or his thoughts about the process of his own poetry.   But, alas, I must stop, as this could become a very long blog indeed. I was also hoping this week to explore the hidden messages in my grandfather’s writing.  I don’t know, perhaps that could be the subject of my next blog.



Hannah Ellis – 3rd October 2016.

Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant.  You can learn more about her by visiting the website –