Dylan Thomas once noted, late in his all-too-brief life, that “A good poem is a contribution to reality.” Throughout his literary career he repeatedly made that contribution, and not only with poetry. His prose and script work also lent a voice to some of the thoughts and feelings that are most familiar to us all, wherever we may live. His rich and rewarding use of the English language transformed things we know well into dazzlingly fresh visions.

Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953) was a writer of poetry and prose and also of scripts. He is most widely recognised for a number of now globally-celebrated poems, notably Fern Hill, and for a radio play, Under Milk Wood, that was finally realised after some years of work at the end of his life.

For many, Dylan Thomas is one of the most significant British poets of the modern age. Indeed, the quotation with which this overview begins suggests how aware Thomas was of how poetry at its best could reflect on, and interpret, what it means to be alive. Let’s not underestimate, either, the impact on Thomas of having lived through World War Two. It has often been said that in the years after its end he attempted to explore the relationships between innocence and experience.

In the resources that the British Council are producing throughout 2014, which will include lesson plans and a series of short films, we are celebrating Dylan Thomas’ creative contribution to British cultural life and also to the global affection for the poetic voice. For those who think poetry is without a place in our contemporary world, Dylan Thomas’ work suggests otherwise.

For students exploring the English language in both written and spoken forms, we are sure that the work of Dylan Thomas, whilst sometimes challenging, will provide useful material to explore and use as a starting place for your own creative endeavours.

When Thomas died in 1953 he had become a literary celebrity. In the wake of his death, his celebrity has sustained itself and now, in his birth centenary year, we can honour the dynamic, inventive and resonant ways in which he wrote.

Dylan Thomas took the very local and very specific and made it universal. Across all of the forms that Dylan Thomas mastered, the literary landscape was made all the richer by his creative exploration of subjects that he returned to throughout his career: memory, childhood and place. He wrote about the ways in which we belong to each other and to the place that we call ‘home’.

By James Clarke

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