Dylan Thomas: A Poet’s Guide (2014); Explanatory Guest Post: Chris Calderon

Hat tip to Chris Calderon for this find! Anything and everything to understand the likely source of the Running Gave’s epigraphs is more than welcome here as we prepare for Strike7. After the jump, I include Mr Calderon’s notes about Thomas and the Romantic poets — and why Serious Strikers should be excited about this poet being the theme-writer for the seventh book.

Dylan Thomas: An Introduction for Serious Strikers (Chris Calderon)

It seems like a good time to bring up what I hope is a useful resource on the artistry of the poet who gives the next case its title.

The video above is a useful beginner’s guide to the art and hidden traditional meaning of the poetry of Dylan ThomasIt’s really just a repeat of the Edmund Spenser overview provided long ago prior to the release of the fifth book in the series.  The major difference here is that Spenser qualifies as a “known quantity”, whereas these days, I think the sad reality is someone like Thomas needs a bit of a re-introduction, especially in terms of the Inklings related content of his own life and poetry.  Consider this letter, then, as a brief informal piece of history and literary criticism.

The enclosed documentary above is recommended for what it very carefully discloses about the Christ-o-centric, Romantic roots of Thomas’s poetry and inspiration.  It is the single online resource that is willing to “go there” in a refreshingly non-judgemental way, and is content to just present the religious dimension in the verse without defaming it in any way, shape or form.  In doing so, it’s also able to provide the faint beginnings of a rubric through which to view and assess both the art and life of the poet through a Mythopoeic lens.

Specifically, it hints at the idea that Dylan Thomas should best be seen as the closest thing to an heir, or completer, of the legacy of William Wordsworth.  In The English Poetic Mind, Inkling Charles Williams made the claim that Wordsworth’s writings, when taken together, tell the story of a Great Work that was left incomplete.  It has its first stage, and then everything peters out due to a number of factors, including  growing lack of self-confidence in the writer, coupled with a creeping sense of skepticism that others like Coleridge were able to avoid or overcome.  Dylan Thomas takes up as The Prelude leaves off.

Like Wordsworth, DT was confronted with the challenge of affirming the message of Romanticism in a fundamentally disenchanted age.  As it turned out, together with the work, and occasional help of poets like T.S. Eliot, Thomas not only helped revive the Romantic strain in Western poetics, he also wound up being the one to help discover the way or mode of expression in which the Romance genre would have to go in order to survive in the 20th century.  The reason Thomas was able to succeed where Wordsworth failed is because near the end, he discovered something that the Lake Poet never managed to find.

Thomas had the good luck to run into a new generation of creative voices during his first reading tours in America.  They belonged to the likes of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.  Much like Thomas did for Wordsworth, it was the Beats who, in turn, were inspired by the Welsh versifier, and took up where he eventually left off, perhaps all too soon.  What happened afterwards is that Romanticism didn’t just get a shot in the arm, so much as it had a warp drive installed into its workings and was launched into space. 

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the 60s were its ultimate origins.  Scholar Theodore Roszak has argued that it is the same Romanticism of Wordsworth, Blake, and Coleridge which underpins The Making of a Counterculture.  In this, he is joined by the likes of Wendell Barrie, and E.F. SchumacherOwen Barfield, for instance, had this to say on the back cover of one of Roszak’s later books.  “I do not see how anyone could fail to be grateful for this valiant essay by a likely and well-stocked mind, wielding a fluent pen, to contain as a whole the formidable plethora of off-center cultural movements now scattered about the world, and to compare, interpret, and evaluate them in terms of their possible evolutionary significance (web)”.  I can’t think of any higher praise, really.

When all of these pieces are assembled together, what you’re given is a picture of overlooked literary connections spanning decades from the Romantics, the Modernists, the Beat Counterculturalists, and all the way up to Rowling herself, who appears to be well aware of a great deal of the Mythopoeic content of Thomas’s work, and how it connects to a lot of the artistic renaissance that came later on.  So that just leaves the resource enclosed above in itself.  It’s the best candidate out there that I’ve been able to dig up in terms of a good intro to the artistry of Thomas’s poetry, outside of The Religious Sonnets of Dylan ThomasA Study in Imagery and Meaning by H.H. Kleinman.

My hope is that it proves useful enough as at least a beginner’s spot.  Something that can get further readers interested enough in the writer and the poetry to seek his works out on their own, as well as something they can then go back and scour for clues once The Running Grave has been released.  With all this in mind, welcome back to the world of poetry coffee bars, Jazz-Folk music houses, and Angel Headed Hipsters.  Blessed be the mad ones.



  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Thank you for this! I see that the younger Welsh poet here, Owen Sheers, also has a documentary about Keith Douglas (and, for that matter, a one-man play about him, too). I’m not sure about Douglas’s possible Inklings contacts as an Oxford undergraduate, but he was included by Sidney Keyes (a fellow soldier-poet, killed even younger than Douglas) and Michael Meyer in their anthology, Eight Oxford Poets (1941) with John Heath-Stubbs, Drummond Allison (yet another soldier-poet killed young), and Keyes himself – all of whom had connections with Charles Williams; and Grevel Lindop writes that through such writers, Williams “became an influence on the British poetic movement known as ‘Neo-Romanticism’ or ‘the New Apocalypse’.”(And, do ‘we’ have any explicit sense – or has anyone discerned implicit connexions – of Strike and such WWII soldier-poets?)

  2. D.L. Dodds,

    A twofold thanks seems to be in order here. First, for providing further useful background information on Thomas’s literary milieu. Until you mentioned it, neither I, nor probably most of anyone here would have heard of “Neo-Romanticism”. It’s an interesting term to describe DT’s poetics. It’s something to keep in mind going forward, especially when establishing links between various writing groups (whether Eliot and the Modernists, the Inkling, or the Beats). Perhaps in this sense, it’s a good description of the informal Writer’s Coterie that the other Dylan belonged to, more than anything else.
    In the second place, you’ve managed to shed light once again on an aspect of Rowling’s sources that yield an overlooked bit of thematic treasure. To answer your immediate question, try as I may, I’m unable to locate any textual links between her characterization of Strike and WWII poets like Keith Douglas or Sidney Keyes. This is a shame, as I am left wondering what further links there could be between Rowling’s work in Denmark Street, and the efforts of someone like David Jones. Sadly, there’s little forthcoming on that front.

    The good news, however, is that the question of the “Strike Series” in relation to war poetry in connection with Dylan Thomas is not asked in vain. Specifically, there are two angles worth digging further into. The first is with one of Thomas’s poems, “Refusal to Mourn the Death of a Child, in London”. It’s talked about in the documentary above, and the reason it jumps out at me is because of how its subject matter sounds eerily familiar in terms of Rowling’s own corpus.

    Twice now, she has given readers her own image of the deceased child. Once directly in “The Casual Vacancy”, and once more in her current series with Strike and Charlotte’s possibly aborted child. And the grave in “Lethal White”. Thomas’s poem takes what can only be described as a stance of religious outrage over both the Blitz and the Holocaust. Rowling’s presentation of the topos is less ambitious in that sense, though part of Thomas’s poem does tie into her Anti-tyranny themes. At the same time, both poetry and books seem to be hinting at the use of the child image in a more symbolically packed way, and I’d like to see Rowling return to the matter once more before moving any further with this line of enquiry. Right now, it is a shared usage which remains as something to keep an eye on, as well as commit to memory for later.

    The second relation between Rowling, Thomas, and war comes in a famous Renaissance author who acts as yet another link between the two. This one has the benefit of perhaps remaining a bit more substantial. I’m thinking specifically, of John Donne, and his poem known as “The Last Cries of Men”. Like “Death of a Child”, it is also a poem about war, and the added benefit for Rowling addicts is that it’s gotten a fair share of spilled digital ink on this site:




    In addition, a quick search reveals several useful sources which corroborate the fact that Thomas was inspired by Donne in his own artistry. In an essay, “Shots from the locks’: Poetry, Mourning, Deaths and Entrances”, Steve Vine helpfully points out that “Thomas, as a number of critics have noted, took the title of his wartime collection “Deaths and Entrances” (1946) from John Donne’s last sermon, “Death’s Duell, or, A Consolation to the Soule, against the dying Life, and living Death of the Body (140)”.

    Likewise, John Ackerman, in “Dylan Thomas: His Life and Work” states that “Thomas echoes Donne in both thought and imagery (83)”. Eleanor Jane McNees, meanwhile, lumps Rowling’s latest epigraphical source together with others, in “Eucharistic Poetry: The Search for the Presence in the Writings of John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, and Geoffrey Hill”. Finally, in “Metaphysical Shadows: The Persistence of Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Marvell in Contemporary Poetry” makes a strong case for how JD’s own literary circle exerted an influence on the Welsh poet’s Neo-Romantic efforts.

    For what it’s worth, I think for this outing, “Galbraith” will be focusing in on the Countercultural aspects of Strike’s past with his mother, Leda. I also maintain this one will be a bit more amusing as Strike learns to rediscover his inner Mercurial (as opposed to Martial) qualities that he’s been perhaps deliberately neglect for the greater part of his life. However, in terms of any possible influence of war poetry on Strike, then I guess Thomas’s debt to Donne is the best place to start looking. Though even here, it’s perhaps important to note that war is neither the whole of either versifier. Their ultimate artistic concerns are much more all-encompassing. I’ll also leave off with one other thing worth noting.

    In addition to poetry, Thomas is also responsible for the memoir known as “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”. That one is a noteworthy entry in retrospect, with the addition of “The Christmas Pig” to Rowling’s bibliography. Perhaps it now makes sense to wonder how much of Dylan there is in both the metaphysical drift of that novel’s plot, as well as how much the main character of Jack Jones might owe to the childhood portrait of Thomas himself. Just a bit of further food for thought later on.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says


    Wow! Thank you for all this!

    A good reminder of Donne as soldier-poet! Spenser deserves similar recollection (I’m not sure how Sidney-minded JKR/RG is… and then there’s Duff Cooper’s intriguing Sergeant Shakespeare…).

    Not only Vaughan but Herbert has Welsh connexions (and Donne has Herbert-family friendships, and what of the alchemical Vaughan brother, Thomas?): here, I’m not sure how attentive Dyan Thomas might or might not have been to all this. (And, does the shared P-Celtic character of Welsh and Cornish enter the Strike picture?)

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