When I was in high school, I discovered the beauty of Dylan Thomas’ writing. I first read Under Milk Wood and then moved on to his poetry. In community college, I was lucky enough to get an English teacher who let me pick my own course content. I picked Dylan Thomas and read everything he wrote and everything about him.
So much later, when I was in Wales for a few days, I wanted to find the places of Dylan Thomas. Laugharne was within easy driving distance of where we were staying. So off we went in our rental Mini to spend the day in the footsteps of the great Welsh poet. I was so excited I had tears in my eyes as we drove into town.
We walked the streets, found the houses he and Caitlin had lived in. Found our way to Brown’s Hotel where he spent a lot of time. We went in, spent a lot of time. Pictures of him and Caitlin on the walls, lots of ambience. Locals looking askance at the tourists looking at everything as if they were in a place of worship. For me, I was.
Another wander through town, then a look at my watch and at my pamphlet. “We gotta go, the Boat House is going to close soon.” The Boat House, on the water at the bottom of a cliff, is where he and Caitlin last lived in Laugharne. Nearby, atop the cliff, is the “writing shed” where Thomas worked. Both are a museum about him. They are a fair walk along the cliff from downtown, where we were.
Walking to the writing place
We started walking through town, leisurely looking around as we went. I was keeping an eye on my watch and realized time was running out, and I sped up. I kept looking back, saying “hurry, hurry”. My partner strolled along, with a “don’t worry, lots of time”. I was getting panicky and the Boat House was farther away than I thought. I should have just run ahead. I did finally, but I got there ten minutes too late. The Boat House had closed for the day. I cried. I was angry at myself for having not just gone on ahead in the first place. At him for dawdling, for not realizing how important this was to me. The town’s atmosphere was indeed lovely, but it would still be there after the Boat House closed.
So I looked in the windows trying to see as much as I could. You can see almost everything inside the writing shed, with his table set up as if he’d just walked away for a minute. But it wasn’t the same. I wanted to be inside the rooms in which Dylan Thomas had spent his time. I wanted to touch the walls, breathe the air inside his place. I wanted to absorb the space of a poet I’d had a crush on for two decades.
My partner felt bad for causing me to miss this. I guess the sight of me with my hands cupped around my face pressed against the window glass while I sniveled must have been pretty pitiful.
The cat in the graveyard
We walked back to town, went to the church graveyard where Dylan is buried. A white cat walked up to us and lay across a nearby gravestone, stretched and rolled, batted at blades of grass. She wanted somebody to play with her and scratch her belly, so I did. There were no flowers on Dylan’s grave, but there were some plastic flowers on another gravestone. I felt bad about what I was about to do, but did it anyway. I took one flower from the bouquet and stuck it in the earth in front of the white cross marking his grave.
We patted the cat good-bye and drove around Laugharne for a farewell look, then left. That visit has stuck in my mind, for what I didn’t see and what I did see. It was devastating to not be able to go in the Boat House, but the cat at the graveyard felt right. It was like she was greeter of Dylan Thomas fans and keeper of the grave.