Drunk on words, and a lot of whiskey

From the New York Times yesterday, “In Wales, a Toast to Dylan Thomas on His 100th Birthday” by Katrin Bennhold:

Laugharne [pronounced LARN], Wales — Down the footpath from his writing shed, along the curve of the water and up the hill, you see what the poet Dylan Thomas once saw: tall birds on the “heron priested shore,” a “sea wet church the size of a snail” atop the ridge, the castle ruin to your left still “brown as owls.”

… Thomas died young, at 39, after boasting that he had downed 18 straight whiskeys (“I believe that’s the record”) in New York in 1953. On Monday, he would have turned 100. His small country, long ill at ease with its hard-living, hard-loving son who wrote in English, not in Welsh, and caricatured his roots as much as he claimed them, is celebrating perhaps its greatest poet.

A map of south Wales, showing three locations — from west to east, Laugharne, Swansea (where Thomas was born and where he wrote much of his early poetry), and the Welsh capital, Cardiff:

Thomas’s poetic

reputation appalled many in Wales, as did Thomas’s flawless English accent. Denied the Welsh language and sent to elocution lessons by his father as a boy, Thomas was long considered too English for the Welsh and too Welsh for the English. (“He belongs to the English,” the Welsh nationalist Saunders Lewis scoffed.)

Back in Laugharne,

The Boathouse, where Thomas lived (“a seashaken house on a breakneck of rocks”), is still there, as is Browns Hotel, his local haunt

… “Under Milk Wood,” his best-known play, which locals insist is based on their town, chronicles a day in an imaginary seaside village called Llareggub. (Read it backward for a sense of his mischievous humor.)

Note: “a seashaken house on a breakneck of rocks”, a wonderful example of the outpouring of language that  characterizes so much of Thomas’s writing; the man was drunk on words.

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