In February 1950, Dylan Thomas made the first of his four visits to the United States, where he was in great demand for poetry readings and drunken antics at the parties following them. He came alone on this first visit, but his wife Caitlin accompanied him for his second visit in 1952. He made two visits to the U.S. in 1953. On the final trip, he died at St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village on 9 November.
Although the Thomases endured a volatile marriage, absence (facilitated by one ocean and one continent) clearly made Thomas's heart grow fonder: "Over this continent I take your love inside me, and your love goes with me up in the aeroplaned air, into all the hotel bedrooms where momentarily I open my bag—half full, as ever, of dirty shirts—and lay down my head & do not sleep until dawn because I can hear your heart beat beside me, your voice saying my name and our love above the noise of the night-traffic, above the neon flashing, deep in my loneliness, my love."
Thomas writes on Good Friday from his hotel room in Vancouver, where he has just given two poetry readings. "The pubs—they are called beer-parlours—serve only beer, are not allowed to have whiskey or wine or any spirits at all—and are open only for a few hours a day. There are, in this monstrous hotel, two bars, one for Men, one for Women. They do not mix. Today, Good Friday, nothing is open nor will be open all day long. Everybody is pious and patriotic, apart from a few people in the university & my old friend Malcolm Lowry—do you remember Under the Volcano—who lives in a hut in the mountains & who came down to see me last night."
Thomas tells Caitlin how eager he is to leave Canada: "[T]hank God to be out of British Canada & back in the terrible United States of America." After a reading in Seattle, he will fly to Montana ("where the cowboys are, thousands of them") then on Hollywood ("the nightmare zenith of my mad, lonely tour").
For Thomas, San Francisco is what makes a visit to the West Coast worthwhile. "But oh, San Francisco! It is and has everything. Here in Canada, five hours away by plane, you wouldn't think such a place as San Francisco could exist. The wonderful sunlight there, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The sardine fleets sailing out. The little cable-cars whizzing down the city hills. The lobsters, clams, & crabs. Oh, Cat, what food for you. Every kind of seafood there is. And all the people are open and friendly." Thomas hopes to secure a teaching appointment in the city for the next year and dreams of having Caitlin and the children there with him. ""Seafood is cheap. Chinese food is cheaper, & lovely. Californian wine is good. The iced bock beer is good. What more? And the city is built on hills; it dances in the sun for nine months of the year; & the Pacific Ocean never runs dry."
After telling of a visit to Henry Miller ("gentle and mellow and gay") at Big Sur, he ends the letter with a magnificent paragraph, worth quoting in full:
"You asked me about the shops. I only know that the shops in the big cities, in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, are full of everything you have ever heard of and also full of everything one has never heard of or seen. The foodshops knock you down. All the women are smart, as in magazines—I mean, the women in the main streets; behind lie the eternal poor, beaten, robbed, humiliated, spat upon, done to death—and slick & groomed. But they are not as beautiful as you. And when you & me are in San Francisco, you will be smarter & slicker than them, and the sea & sun will make you jump over the roofs & the trees, & you will never be tired again. Oh, my lovely dear, how I love you. I love you for ever & ever. I see you every moment of the day & night. I see you in our little house, tending the pomegranate of your eye. I love you. Kiss Colum, kiss Aeron & Llewwlyn. Is Elizabeth with you? Remember me to her. I love you. Write, write, write, write, my sweetheart Caitlin. Write to me still c/o [John Malcolm] Brinnin, though the letters come late that way, I am sure of them. Do not despair. Do not be too tired. Be always good to me. I shall one day be in your arms, my own, however shy we shall be. Be good to me, as I am always to you. I love you. Think of us together in the San Franciscan sun, which we shall be. I love you. I want you. Oh, darling, when I was with you all the time, how did I ever shout at you? I love you. Think of me."
The letter ends with a four-line postscript: "I enclose a cheque for £15. / I will write from Hollywood in three days. / I will send some more money. / I love you."
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