The View From Cwmdonkin Drive

Dylan Thomas Swansea

When connecting the poet Dylan Thomas with place, he is most often associated with New York’s West Village, the location of his death, and the Welsh village of Laugharne, where his writing shed stood precariously on the cliffs that looked out onto the Taf River and up at Sir John’s Hill.


But most of Thomas’s writings, including seminal works like A Child’s Christmas in Wales, his most celebrated poetry collections, and two-thirds of his published pieces, were produced in his family’s house at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in the Uplands section of Swansea. And it was this small-scale reality that inspired him.


Those who visit the Thomas house today will encounter the poet’s bedroom, which still retains the charm of a dispiriting cell. In a July, 1934 letter to his then-girlfriend, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Thomas writes that his room is “Very tiny. I really have to go out to turn round.” He continues: I have a “[n]ice view of wall through window.” For a writer, this amount of inspiration might be similar to a painter forced to stare at one blank canvas while producing on another.


But it was in that quiet space—albeit a room, Thomas wrote, where “ the water pipes are swearing at me”—that he translated the sights remembered through the other windows of the house.


Dylan Thomas's Desk Swansea


Next door to Dylan Thomas’s room, his parent’s easterly-facing bay window was a study of Swansea, the city that Thomas famously dubbed in his short story Reminiscences of Childhood an “ugly, lovely town… crawling, sprawling by a long and splendid curving shore.”


Today, ugly Swansea still stands beneath its smokestacks, while the shoreline extends toward the enchanting suburbs and islands off the headland, a view that continues from his parents’ window overlooking the south. Below that southerly window, down the ascent of Cwmdonkin Drive, beautiful lines from Thomas’s work will strike a visitor to the property as marvelous and obvious. The “ships sailing on the roofs of houses” is exactly how any boy might whimsically describe the action of the bay that remains partly eclipsed by neighbors’ rooftops.


Dylan Thomas's House Swansea


Down the hall, the room on the west side of the house, where Thomas had been born exactly a century ago, once offered an unobstructed view into Cwmdonkin Park. Today, the trees have grown too high. Still, from that vantage point, readers of Thomas can see that his genius was linked to his study of the park. He writes in Reminiscences of Childhood that “that park grew up with me, that small world widened as I learned its secrets and boundaries.” As this microcosmic space expanded, as the boundaries extended to the glass between the writer and the park, this influence from place fostered some of his most acclaimed works. In The Hunchback in the Park, Thomas describes from a comfortable distance that “solitary mister / Propped between trees and water … Eating bread from a newspaper … Running when he had heard [those truant boys who] … followed the hunchback / To his kennel in the dark.”


Dylan Thomas's House Swansea


And if it wasn’t windows refracting life to the page, it was doors allowing for the diffusion of truth. In the backyard, Thomas, as a boy, would hide in the coal shed to eavesdrop on his family’s maid, Emily. As she spoke across the low divide with the neighbor’s hired help, the child waited for the right gossip to return him to his room with motivation. When the two women revealed that they were being courted by the same man and hatched a plan to confront him in the park, Dylan Thomas made this overheard scheme the plot of his short story Patricia, Edith, and Arnold. He writes, “The small boy in his invisible engine… backed the Flying Welshman from the washhouse to the open door of the coal-hole… [where he] listened to the worried voices of the girls.”


In his family’s home, he banked the colors of his world and returned to that canvas of wall to spin life into fiction; fact into beauty. When his sister married and left the house on Cwmdonkin Drive, Dylan Thomas could have moved into her much larger room, which looked upon both the ugly and lovely of Swansea. But the writer remained in his box, where he preferred to work from memory.




Posted on by Noah Lederman in Europe, Somewhere

2 Responses to The View From Cwmdonkin Drive

  1. Rob Ross

    Noah, I loved the fact that you posted this on Thomas’ birthday. Also that in your piece he paraphrases Groucho’s old line, “This hotel room is so small, I have to step outside to change my mind”……..great poet and a great piece….

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