When digging through a stack of old papers, K. chanced upon a framed letter. She’d been given it some fifteen or twenty years ago by her art teacher, and while she’d kept it lying around presumed it was probably a fake and didn’t think much of it. After a similar amount of digging round online, I’m fairly certain it’s “real”, if possibly a photocopy or photostat.
The letter purports to be from Dylan Thomas to “Vernon”, probably his friend Vernon Watkins. It was written in July 1937, only a few days after his marriage to Caitlin Macnamara. The handwriting is of a piece with other samples I can find on the web.
Thomas was a legend while alive, and since his untimely death his reputation as a poet has ripened to maturity, while the somewhat sordid details of his lifestyle have always hung around his work like a bad smell. It’s a relief therefore to read such lucid, light-hearted chat (there’s no other word from it) written by someone rewritten by popular English culture as a gifted, drunken, tortured, ultimately doomed artist. Remarks both humorously self-deprecating and wickedly vituperative (about Nigel Heseltine, who he never liked) reveal an entirely different aspect of his personality.
The letter may or may not be original: it has a laminate over its front so it’s quite hard to tell. There’s a shadow on it that looks like an artifact of photocopying a folded original. It might even be an escapee from a museum exhibition; certainly it could already be part of known Thomasiana, which would make our—K’s—copy entirely redundant, but I’d like to think otherwise.
We had no idea what to do with it, and—though we could do with the money—felt that trying to sell it would leave a nasty taste in our mouth (and abject embarrassment if it turned out to be worthless). So it’s been sent off to the National Library of Wales today, but not before I made a decent scan of it, and also transcribed it.
“They are rejecting me now but the day will come when the name Dylan Thomas will be echoed from shore to shore. Only I won’t be alive to hear it.”