Dylan Thomas’ death was way too early. We can all agree to that. Some people may say that it could be blamed on the way he lived his life. It was truly destructive in nature. For others, they feel like the famed Welsh poet did not deserve to go as early as he did.
One this is for sure. The death of Dylan Thomas seemed like the climax to what was a very troubled and tortured life.
The death of Dylan Thomas
When Thomas arrived in New York for his fourth tour, he was already complaining about health issues. It was October 20, 1953, and the weather in New York was not a favourable one. Even his mistress, Liz Reitell, said that he looked “pale, delicate and shaky” when she met him at the airport. But that did not stop their rendezvous and even his drinking escapades. He continued to stay up late and drink.
Before leaving Britain, he was already feeling ill because of chest pains and gout. But he had to take another tour of poetry reading and talks – all of which were still organised by Brinnin.
Although it was evident that he was not in perfect health, he still went through with the tour and there were no records that he got some medical treatment. He already had to rely on an inhaler to help him breath and the pollution in New York at that time made matters worse.
There were even reports that Dylan Thomas had episodes of blacking out. One was while he was visiting BBC producer Philip Burton and another while he was with Louis MacNeice, a fellow poet. All of these were already signs that something was wrong – but nobody acted on it. Even the poet did not do anything. He did visit a doctor but it was only to get a smallpox vaccination certificate. Dylan Thomas’ death put up a lot of signs but nobody paid any attention.
It was only on October 23 when a friend, Herb Hannum, suggested that Thomas sees a doctor before the Under Milk Wood performance. Dr. Milton Feltenstein gave him two injections – believing that he was suffering from delirium tremens – a common condition among drinkers. Although Thomas was able to attend two performances, he collapsed afterward.
On October 27, Thomas was able to attend the birthday party celebrated in his honor, but he did not finish. He felt too sick to go on. Meanwhile, news about the air pollution in the city causing the death of 200 New Yorkers circulated. This was not good news for Thomas. His chest lung condition worsened.
But still, he kept on drinking. His famous last words were, “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s a record!”
On November 4, Dr. Feltenstein came to visit him to administer steroids. But it was the 32.4 milligrams of morphine sulphate that caused his health to really fail. It affected his breathing and by midnight of November 5, he started to turn blue. He was then sent to the emergency room.
At the St. Vincent Hospital, he was admitted by 1:58 am. He was already in comatose. The medical notes revealed that the physician’s impression was “acute alcoholic encephalopathy damage to the brain by alcohol, for which the patient was treated without response.”
He never did regain consciousness and passes away on November 9, 1953. It was revealed that Dylan Thomas’ death was caused primarily by pneumonia.
The legacy of Dylan Thomas
In more than one occasion, Dylan Thomas wrote about death. One of the most popular was the one that he wrote for his father.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
He also wrote another that spoke of how one wins over death.
“And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon.”
It was his way of revealing how he felt about death. It was not a welcome thought for him. Although it was a part of life, he viewed it as something that is evil. He resisted it.
While that may be his perception, he certainly did not put up enough resistance to prevent his death. Dylan Thomas’ death is still, and will always be a tragic one.