D.J. and Dylan Thomas

Stefany Anne Golberg in The Smart Set:

ScreenHunter_04 Jun. 22 15.24As a boy, D.J. was a promising student. He had received a scholarship to study English at the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth where he graduated with first-class honors. Like many promising students of English, D.J. had dreams of being a poet. Instead, he became a grammar school teacher. He watched in anger and shame as colleagues of clearly inferior worth gained appointments to higher university positions while he remained where he was. D.J. was often ill, and wondered why he had no visitors. He cultivated a devastating schoolmaster’s sarcasm that shielded his fragile pride. Students of Schoolmaster Thomas remember an unforgiving tyrant who cursed stupid boys and dirty boys. But he made Shakespeare come alive and became known for getting his boys into Oxford and Cambridge. D.J.’s great passion for English literature was available for any boy willing to receive it. To his son Dylan, however, the clever, disappointed father gave his entire dream of a poet’s life.

From childhood, Dylan Thomas accepted the poet’s life as his fate and set out to prove that his father’s rage, along with his love of language, would live on. He cultivated a big sonorous voice and a big sonorous presence in which rage and poetry thrived. Dylan was doughy, curly-headed, soft, and at the same time asthmatic, wild, and prone to nightmares and depression. Dylan would lie awake at night thinking of “God and Death and Triangles,” and would develop an alcoholism as famous as his poetry. Just as D.J.’s eccentric mannerisms and dramatic storytelling made people uncomfortable, the same mannerisms, performed by the son, became a trademark. D.J.’s hypochondria became Dylan’s sensitivity. Just as D.J. used rage to hide from regret, Dylan used it to further his poet’s identity. The father and son would feed off each other, each raging himself into a state that was alternately more wronged and more poetic than the other. It was the rage that allowed them to be larger than life, larger than themselves. The rules of this father/son project were catalogued in Dylan’s most famous poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The poem was written during D.J.’s declining years, after the father had allowed himself to become quiet and frail and resigned.

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