Despite having a relatively brief career, Welsh writer Dylan Thomas’ contributions to the world of poetry remain important more than 60 years after his death. There is no better time to honor Thomas and his work than on Oct. 27, which will mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Several events and exhibits are planned around the world to celebrate the birthday, many of which will be hosted at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, the poet’s hometown in Wales. A movie chronicling the last years of the poet’s life, “Set Fire to the Stars,” opens in the United Kingdom early next month. But Robert Lima, a professor emeritus of Spanish and comparative literatures at Penn State, hopes even more will be done to remember the poet and his legacy.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who know his work and remember it, but they need to be reminded, you know?” Lima said.
In addition to his role at Penn State, Lima is a poet, playwright and literary critic. His passion for writing was partially inspired by reading Thomas’ poems as a teenager, but he almost went down a completely different career path.
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“I got entranced by this romance of civil engineering,” Lima said. One of his uncles partially redesigned the city of Caracas, Venezuela, and he initially convinced his nephew to follow in his footsteps.
On the other hand, Lima’s father was an editor for The McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. He had a another uncle who wrote for a major newspaper in Havana, Cuba, and several of his cousins were writers, as well. Although his family background may have played a role, his love of poems by Thomas and other poets caused him to switch directions in college.
Lima worked as a librarian throughout high school, which gave him easy access to much of Thomas’ poems. He said that two of the Welsh poet’s pieces in particular — “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” and “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” — have always stuck with him.
“For some reason those two death poems appealed to me,” Lima said. “It must have been a romantic thing in my life. I actually ended up publishing a book of death poems of my own.”
Throughout his life, Lima has had a couple of unique opportunities that have put him close to Thomas’ work and the poet himself. He glimpsed Thomas at a New York City tavern, not long before the poet’s death, but almost more meaningful was a trip Lima made to the United Kingdom in 1979. There he visited Thomas’ home in Wales, eventually finding his way to the poet’s boathouse, which served as his office.
“Here I was. There’s his desk. There’s his chair. There’s his window. I looked around, made sure no one was watching, and I sat down and just started to write this poem,” said Lima. “It was just an amazing moment.”
Thomas suffered from alcoholism, which contributed to his death in 1953. That’s only part of the reason why he has a relatively small body of work compared with some other writers of his time.
“He wrote very few poems because he wrote them very carefully over a long period of time,” said Lima.
“(Thomas) had a deep, rolling, powerful voice. He has the voice of a bard, a poet who sang for the people in public arenas,” Lima said. “He is one of the greatest voices in poetry.”
Dylan Thomas’s poems are available in several collected editions and Robert Lima’s works can be found at Schlow Library, Webster’s Bookstore, and online through Amazon.
With the anniversary of Thomas’ birth on Oct. 27, there are more than a few things Lima wants people to remember about him, chief among them the quality of the poet’s written and oral word.
Thomas has remained Lima’s favorite writer since he first discovered his work in high school, so he has taken it upon himself to spread the word about the upcoming anniversary and the poet’s importance in general.
“Little by little, I’m trying to get my main man out there in the public eye. I just want to help people remember,” Lima said.