O see the poles are kissing as they cross.
Thomas melds disparate images through rhythm, repetition, alliteration and odd little half-rhymes and internal rhymes, and even shapes. Wild in his living he might have been, but as a poet he is very formal, and this adds to the shock that readers felt back then (and still do). Here's the end of the renegade-Christian "Before I Knocked":
You who bow down at cross and altar,
Remember me and pity Him
Who took my flesh and bone for armour
And doublecrossed my mother's womb.
His poems fall into groups, cycles that reflect the pattern of his life: the adolescent stuff; swimming in testosterone; the beautiful, shattering war poems; love poems; poems about poetry; and elegies for those he knew who had died or were dying. Thomas loved film and worked as a scriptwriter during WW2 (he would have been a conscientious objectorbut was spared from having to make that stand when he failed the army medical) and lived through the Blitz. Watching London burn, he observed the flames and death with an pop-eyed gaze that typically blends wonder and horror:
Among the street burned to tireless death
A child of a few hours
With its kneading mouth
Charred on the black breast of the grave
The mother dug, and its arms full of fires.
("Ceremony After a Fire Raid")
From the start people wanted to cast Thomas as an icon, a self-destructive genius, and he duly played to the role, boozing it up, chasing skirt, raising his fists in the pubs of Fitzrovia, staging flat-out public fights with Caitlin, stealing money when he didn't have it and freely giving it away when he did.
When asked why he kept coming back to America (he made four hectic trips here in the early 1950s, the final one culminating in his death), he said: "Because of my eternal search for naked women in diaphanous mackintoshes." That's a very funny line, but it tells only a small part of the Dylan Thomas story. In London, he drank. In New York, he drank. On the campuses of California and in the Midwest, he drank. But at home, in South Wales, in his writing shed, he scraped, scratched, intoned and changed. His discipline was obsessive. He wrote and rewrote, producing, for instance, more than 200 versions of the great poem "Fern Hill":