Old Pup

Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas

edited and with commentary by Constantine Fitzgibbon
New Directions, 432 pp., $8.50

A Concordance to The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas

by R.C. Williams
University of Nebraska, 592 pp., $6.95

MY LORD,—I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter with the 100£ inclosed. What can I say? Till a Friend and House-mate addressed me at my bedside, with—’You have had a letter franked by Lord Byron? Is it from him?‘ I had, as it were, forgotten that I was myself the object of your kindness—so completely lost was I in thinking of the thing itself and the manner in which it was done.

Whether, my Lord, it shall be a loan or not, depends on circumstances not in my powers tho’ in my hope and expectation. Thank God! this is of the least importance—the debt and the pleasure of love and gratitude stand unaffected by anything accidental.

S. T. Coleridge
to Lord Byron, 1816

Dear Lawrence,

I forgot to thank you for the pound, crisper than celery, and sweeter than sugar oh the lovely sound, not through ingratitude, it’s as welcome as a woman is cleft, but through work (half a poem about energy), sloth (in a chair looking at my feet or the mirror or unread novels or counting the patterns on the floor to see if I can work out a system for my football pools or watching my wife knit or dance), depression (because mostly, there weren’t more pounds from more people)….

Dylan Thomas
to Lawrence Durrell, 1939

The begging and thank-you letters from poet to patrons make up a considerable genre of literature. Michael Innes in one of his learned thrillers invented a sinister millionaire who collected only such Mss. He would have found much of interest in the correspondence of Dylan Thomas, who from the age of twenty-three to his death at thirty-nine, mentions money in almost every letter. “Great demands are of the parasite,” he writes to Henry Treece in 1938, explaining what a difficult way of life he had chosen. He was right to choose absolute freedom from a career and regular office hours, in order to get time for poetry; but his life needn’t have been all that difficult. He seems to have been generously supported by his parents who threw in a beer allowance until at twenty he became a famous poet; he found kind patrons, public and private, earned a bit from film scripts and radio broadcasts and a great deal from his American tours. But he spent so fast that he was always in debt and compelled to scribble, desperate wheedling letters to anyone who might help.

THIS SELECTION would be even more monotonous in tone and theme if Constantine Fitzgibbon had not omitted a great many other letters about money, as he tells us. On other subjects, the most interesting are the letters written to Vernon Watkins, discussing in detail his poems of the 1930s as he wrote them; but since these have been in print since 1957, Fitzgibbon has included only four. Also on the subject of poetry there is the long correspondence with Henry Treece: parts of this …

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Letters

Explanation November 9, 1967