If Dylan Thomas hadn’t drunk himself to death in 1953, he might be celebrating his ninety-sixth birthday today, perhaps with a successor to the grand and glorious poem he wrote to celebrate his thirtieth.
He left us with a small number of poems so heart-wrenching that I cannot read them, even for the two hundredth time, without all of the symptoms of an emotional crisis. Take In Country Sleep, where a father reassures his daughter that she has nothing to fear from fairy tale villains—but only from the Thief who comes in multiple guises to take her faith and ultimately to leave her “naked and forsaken to grieve he will not come”. In Country Sleep was a standard bedtime poem in our house, and my daughter soon learned to anticipate “the part where Daddy cries”.
Then there’s the prose. Nobody is better at nostalgia and grief for time’s relentlessness: