I was recently asked by one of Dylan Thomas’s literary agents to provide her with a Dylan Thomas biography that she could share with organisations and individuals that were interested in performing Dylan’s work. Below is my first attempt at condensing the first twenty-five years of his life (the second part is next week) which I’ve found terribly difficult as there are so many experiences and influences that had a intense impact on him. However, here it is.

My plan is to cut this down further and to have a long, medium and short version, as well as a child friendly one too. All of which I will share on the website to be utilised by anyone wanting to learn more about my grandfather.


Dylan Thomas’s life – 1914-1939

Dylan Thomas was born on October 27th 1914 in Swansea. The Welsh seaside town was a typical mix of industry, countryside and sea. It was a rich tapestry for his evolving imagination.

Dylan’s early years were spent at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in the Swansea Uplands with his older sister Nancy, his father DJ and mother Florence. DJ was a teacher at the local grammar school while Florence was a homemaker and seamstress.

As Dylan grew up, he was surrounded and immersed by language. His Welsh speaking aunts and uncles were regular visitors to the house and they would take over the family kitchen and fill it with loud chatter and laughter. While drinking numerous cups of tea and eating large amounts of Victoria Sponge cake, they would tell exaggerated stories about village life and tales of woe – all of which Dylan absorbed with relish. He was learning from an early age the important skills needed to be a captivating storyteller.

© Dylan Thomas Birthplace

It was common at the start of the twentieth century for the emerging middle classes to speak English and DJ was part of this group. Parents wanted their sons educated in English because business was conducted in the language and this provided economic advancement. DJ also sent Dylan for elocution lessons, which may have been his attempt to ensure his son had a neutral accent. However, although Dylan did not speak Welsh, after hours of listening to his relative’s gossip, he definitely understood it. For this reason, many years later, it must have been second nature to him to steal the music of the two tongues he heard around him and include the rhymes and rhythms in his poetry.

As each year passed, Dylan’s appetite for literature increased and he was looking all around for ways to nourish it.   Fortunately, every room in the house was strewn with books: under tables, piled high on sideboards and in his father’s library. Dylan read as much as possible, wherever and whenever he could with his “eyes hanging out like stalks” and this fed his escalating obsession with words.

By the time Dylan attended Swansea Grammar School, he already knew that he wanted to be a poet and became disengaged with other areas of his learning. Apart from English, where he gained ninety eight per cent in the Central Welsh Board Examination, he neglected his studies, passed no other examinations, and regularly appeared bottom of his class each term.

Leaving the rigid school environment in 1930 was a turning point for Dylan and it became a stage of immense creativity. He got a job as a reporter on a local paper and experienced the quirky characters and ‘seedier’ sides of Swansea life. He also observed the terrible effects of the Great Depression on the poorer and more vulnerable people of the town. This gave him an early understanding of the intricacies of human behaviour.

Yet, by night, in his tiny bedroom, Dylan was collecting words as if they were rare butterflies and experimenting, playing-with and revealing the magical secrets they held. This literary cocoon was where he wrote, scribbled and doodled, filling entire notebooks with remarkable poetry many of which were early drafts of some of his most famous poems.   It really was one of his most productive periods as a writer.

© Dylan Thomas Birthplace


In August 1933, DJ was diagnosis with throat cancer and painful treatment with radium needles followed. The dread and uneasy atmosphere at Cwmdonkin Drive was having a very negative impact on Dylan and it has been suggested that he had a nervous breakdown of sorts. There is a parallel between his frame of mind in 1933 and the description of Dylan as he was during his last days in New York. Ironically, Dylan continued to write furiously at this time and eighteen poems from the notebook that he started when his father was taken ill were included in subsequent poetry collections.

Dylan was awarded the Sunday Referee’s, Poet’s Corner Prize in March 1934 and he was given the chance to put together a volume of his poetry. His first book, 18 Poems was published in December of that year.

Following this, Dylan decided to move to London in order to network with the great, the artistic and the literary. He met with other writers, publishers and journalists to get his work more widely known. His poems appeared in literary magazines and after the success of his first collection, he published another volume of his poetry, Twenty-five Poems in 1936, and he became a celebrated poet.

Over the years, there have been many conflicting stories about Dylan’s behaviour in the pubs and clubs in London and one of the reasons for this could be what friends referred to it as, ‘Instant Dylan’. He took on a chameleon-like approach and adapted his ‘performance’ accordingly. In social situations, Dylan was very good at being charming, funny and friendly, however, he was actually quite an introverted young man at heart and naturally very shy. It was all part of what Dylan felt was expected of him. Dylan believed he had to ‘play a role’ to fit in and there was a certain way poets behaved.

In April 1936, the artist Augustus John introduced Dylan to Caitlin Mcnamara at the Wheatsheaf pub in Fitzrovia. There was an immediate and passionate love affair and they married in Cornwall on July 11th 1937.

Dylan and Caitlin had a temperamental relationship, which has been widely noted. It was fiery and full of arguments and there were infidelities…on both sides. However, they also understood each other. Although Caitlin was somewhat of a ‘free-spirit’ and was not always concerned about conforming to what was considered ‘appropriate’ behaviour, she was an excellent homemaker and provided Dylan with the routine and stability he needed to help him focus on his writing. Interestingly, despite moving to Italy following Dylan’s death, and remaining there for almost forty years, she requested for her final resting place to be with Dylan. In 1994 she was brought back to Wales and buried with him in Laugharne.

 ©Gabriel Summers


 ©Gabriel Summers

While living in London in the 1930s, Dylan was very aware of the possibility of another world war. The rise of the far right was very evident and he observed the impact on a close friend, Mervyn Levy. His Jewish background and artistic appearance made him a regular target of Oswald Mosley’ s ‘Black shirts.’

War had hung over Dylan’s childhood and youth – the Great War – the awful massacre in the mud. He had seen it through the eyes of the likes of Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon and then attempted to make sense of it through the intense themes of his adolescent poetry and stories.

For this reason, the announcement of war breaking out in Europe on September 3rd 1939 had a profound affect on Dylan. A friend described him, as being like, An animal caught in a trap”.

Dylan was a true pacifist and the thought of killing another human being was intolerable to him. Despite trying to find ways to avoid joining up he was called to service in spring 1940, but following a medical at Llandeilo he was declared unfit to fight on health grounds. He was pronounced grade C3 because of his weak lungs, which effectively meant that it was very unlikely he would be required to fight. As it turned out, Dylan had to use his talent as a brilliant wordsmith to help with the war effort.

Featured image –  © Gabriel Summers

 Hannah Ellis – 29th May 2017.

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