He urged us to not go gently into that good night.
Now, the handwritten words of Dylan Thomas will go gently quite a distance – all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.
Rare notebooks, photographs and other materials left behind by the famous Welsh poet will travel later this month from Buffalo to Wales – with special handling by a personal attendant – to become part of a landmark commemoration of the birth of Thomas in his native country.
The materials being sent abroad – just a portion of the Thomas holdings at the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries at the University at Buffalo – will be displayed in two sites in Wales during yearlong festivities for the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth, said curators at the Poetry Collection.
“It gives us an international reputation,” said Michael Basinski, curator of the Poetry Collection. “Scholars have already known it was here. What it’s likely to do is lead to more tourists, more exhibitions. This just brings it to a wider audience.”
Thomas was born 100 years ago, in the fall of 1914, in the south of Wales. From simple beginnings in Swansea, Thomas became one of the best-known voices in midcentury poetry and prose – before dying unexpectedly at 39.
“He’s like Robert Frost or James Joyce,” said James Maynard, associate curator of the collection. “His name transcends his work.
“Even if you don’t know one of his poems, you know who he is.”
The trove of prized original materials relating to Thomas’ life and work, part of the Poetry Collection at UB for many years, includes numerous items, according to those who oversee the collection. The collection includes five notebooks that belonged to the poet, starting with one Thomas used in 1933 when he was 19, said Basinski. Those notebooks are extremely rare, he said.
“The young notebooks of any writer are the most interesting,” Basinski said.
Also in the collection are photographs of Thomas, including intimate snapshots of him relaxing at home with his wife, the former Caitlin Macnamara, whom the poet married in 1936.
The notebooks, photos and other items will leave Western New York on Feb. 18, and will be in Wales for much of the rest of the year, the curators said. They will be displayed in the National Library of Wales and another site in Swansea.
Some of the Thomas items were acquired by the Poetry Collection while Thomas was alive, through an intermediary source who was a bookseller, as far back as the early 1940s. Other items were collected by UB later on, from others who knew Thomas, booksellers and in other ways. The collection includes a number of early published editions of Thomas’ books of poetry and prose – as well as albums of the poet reading his poetry and that of other writers. There are, in addition, magazines from the 1950s – Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle among them – with articles about Thomas.
There was “this whole industry of making recordings of his readings,” Maynard said.
Experts in the Poetry Collection said that the Thomas repository is one of the most significant at the university, along with the collection’s holdings on James Joyce and Robert Graves.
One of the goals of the exhibits and events surrounding the commemoration of Thomas’ birth is to increase the awareness of Wales as a place where Thomas can be appreciated and studied, as James Joyce is appreciated in Ireland, and other writers elsewhere, said Maynard.
In addition to helping mark the 100th birthday of a major figure in Wales’ history, Maynard said, people there are “hoping that these yearlong celebrations … will also have a salutary effect in bringing tourism.”
Thomas, who died in 1953 while on a reading tour in New York, is well-known for works including the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and the story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”
Among its Thomas items, the Poetry Collection at UB contains a copy of the “Do Not Go Gentle” poem, in Thomas’ small, neat handwriting, on a sheet of paper.
Thomas also is famous for his flashy, tempestuous – and often difficult – life, which included heavy drinking and romantic relationships with women.
A new movie about Thomas starring Elijah Wood and Celyn Jones is being filmed in Wales.
“He does fall into this longstanding tradition of the ‘poet who suffers,’ ” Maynard said.
The Buffalo collection housed at UB draws scholars from around the world, including from Australia, England and Wales, curators said. It also draws avid fans of poetry and of Thomas in particular, as a representative voice of his generation, Basinski said.
“They will drive hundreds of miles to stand in the presence,” said Basinski of Thomas’ fans. “Dylan has this kind of aura.”
All this – despite the fact that Thomas seems to have never given a reading or talk here in Buffalo.