April 12:Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Thomas met Caitlin McNamara on this day in 1936, atthe Wheatsheaf Pub in London (a pub also popular with George Orwell and otherwriters, and still in operation). The most recent biography, Andrew Lycett’s Dylan Thomas (2004), warns that somedetails of this legendary first meeting may well have been embroidered—forexample, that when Thomas slipped out of his trousers later that evening at theFitzrovia Hotel, the trousers were so dirty they stood in the corner bythemselves; and that the two lovers managed to charge their room to Caitlin’scurrent boyfriend (and father of her earlier boyfriend), the painter AugustusJohn. In any case, their relationship was immediate and their marriage lastedfor sixteen years, despite the famous battles and infidelities, and the truthstold in one of Thomas’s early love letters:
…you’re weeks older now,is your hair grey? have you put your hair up, and do you look like a real adultperson…? You mustn’t look too grown up, because you’d look older than me; andyou’ll never, I’ll never let you, grow wise, and I’ll never, you shall neverlet me, grow wise, and we’ll always be young and unwise together. There is, Isuppose, in the eyes of the They, a sort of sweet madness about you and me, asort of mad bewilderment and astonishment oblivious to the Nasties and theMeanies…. I know we’re not saints or virgins or lunatics; we know all the lustand lavatory jokes, and most of the dirty people; we can catch buses and countour change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goesawfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything atall, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t.”
Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas begins with her memory of this first meeting—Thomassuddenly putting his head in her lap as he continued his monologue to those atthe pub, and later at the Fitzrovia Hotel Thomas hopping out of pants so dirtythey stood in the corner by themselves. Caitlin’s book came from a series oftape-recording sessions in the mid-1980s; in his preface, the recorder andeditor, George Tremlett, notes how moved Caitlin was by her decades-oldmemories, which flooded up from a full range of emotion:
I want you to understand,before we go any further, that I never had an orgasm in all my years withDylan, and that lies at the heart of our problems…. You must understand thatour lives were raw, red, bleeding meat…. There was something magic betweenus; I think it was an affinity of souls; I felt that right from the firstmoment I met him….
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.