Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas

Portrait of Artist as a Young dogMarch in Massachusetts comes and goes and leaves a restlessness in my legs, an itch between the shoulders. I would have already prepared the garden for the spring planting, but the Yankee winter has defied me with snow and ice and muck. So we wait, with a new-found appreciation of New England summers and the long, dry walks they afford.

I wander through the pages on the shelf instead. Lately, I’ve devoured the works and biographies of Dylan Thomas, a poet from South Wales and an orator well-known in the U.S. for sonorous recitations in his sing-song Welsh voice. They are a wonder to hear, in a booming cadence that rolls from vowel to vowel like water over a rocky course. Oddly enough, I’ve searched multiple bookshops in the area, both new and used, without finding a collection of his poetry. As to whether that speaks to his popularity or obscurity, I can only guess. Take a listen, you won’t be disappointed.

The sounds of Dylan’s verse run true in his prose as well. Last week I picked up Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, a collection of stories Dylan wrote about his beginnings in the seaport city of Swansea and the surrounding Welsh countryside. Dylan traces his steps from boyhood to adolescence to manhood, from scraps and scares to schoolyard tussles to girls and drink and the ennui of youth. His tone easily passes from darkness to light, and if there are many sobering moments of recognition they are lightened with laughter and wit.

The structure of these stories is much more linear than his free-flowing verse, and it evokes different sentiments than those found in his poetry. Verse and narrative lay together like different exposures in one photograph. Fern Hill and The Peaches show us the boy Dylan at his aunt’s farm through two different, yet complementary lenses: the latter with the realism and brokenness of family and friendship, the former with a nostalgic remembrance brushed with melancholy and resignation. One offers an entertaining account of the artist in his romps through the rites of passage, and the other delves into the inner-workings of the poet and his craft.

In many ways, reading his stories becomes almost an act of remembrance for the reader as well. Extraordinary Little Cough portrays young Dylan and his schoolmates on holiday at the beach. After finding and losing their girls, he makes a simple observation with a profound (and comic) quality: “Although I knew I loved her, I didn’t like anything she said or did.” I barked a laugh aloud after reading that.

Dylan’s own attitudes towards his stories seem to be disdain, with a preference for his poetry. Yet Dylan was forever plagued by bills and debts, and the stories performed well in periodicals and promised success together as a volume. The results may be described as inferior, if only in comparison to the quality of  his verse, but there is much to be gleaned from a reading of both. Do read both, and read them aloud. Perhaps then you’ll hear the sound of the wind over the Gower, the pony and cart on the cobbles or the splash of beer and its “brass-bright depths” through the “wet brown walls of the glass.”

Pages: 123 FoA Pages: 15,169

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