“Some of the finest poems in the English language” - lost Dylan Thomas notebook comes home to Swansea

The lost Dylan Thomas notebook, rediscovered after lying forgotten in a drawer for decades, went on display at Swansea University on 14 May, marking the inaugural International Dylan Thomas Day. The poet’s granddaughter, Hannah Ellis, said it showed early versions of “what would be some of the finest poems in the English language”.

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The notebook was bought by Swansea University and is to be kept in the Richard Burton Archives.

Professor John Goodby of Swansea University, international Dylan Thomas expert and editor of the centenary edition of his poems, described the notebook as “the holy grail of Thomas scholars” and the most exciting discovery since the poet’s death in 1953.

Hannah Ellis with notebookLeft: ‌Hannah Ellis, granddaughter of Dylan Thomas, with the 'lost' notebook.

Hannah Ellis, granddaughter of Dylan Thomas, who attended the event, said: “I'm struck by how ordinary the notebook looks, even though it contains early experimentation with what would be some of the finest poems in the English language.

The thing I love about looking at it is how tiny and neat his handwriting is. I've always felt he was such a meticulous craftsman. When I look at this I think what a perfectionist he is.  Nothing is right until he's crossed it out a hundred times, or added a new word. It has to be exactly right.

I've always felt that the sensational part of my grandfather's life appeared to be his last 3 years, when he went to the US. But the important part of his life was what happened here in Swansea, where he was influenced by his father, by the sea, and the views.  

I was delighted when I heard the notebook had come to light. My big concern was someone would buy it, hide it away and no-one would see it. So I was so pleased that Swansea University bought it, and that they had plans to show it and digitise it, so more people can get to know my grandfather's work.”

Jeff Towns with some of his collectionLeft: Jeff Towns with part of his Dylan Thomas writings and memorabilia at the exhibition.  

The event offered a rare opportunity for the public to see this magnificent, recently-discovered artefact, including original Dylan Thomas photographs, Dylan’s first ever published poem, and rare proof copies of several of his works, generously on loan from Dylan’s Bookstore

Professor Iwan Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University, said: “As the University is in the poet's birthplace, and sponsor of theInternational Dylan Thomas Prize, it is fitting that we have been able to ensure that this notebook stays in Wales. The notebook will be a wonderful addition to our already extensive and important archive collection."

The notebook will be kept in the University’s Richard Burton Archives, which already house Burton’s diaries and other papers, bequeathed to the University by his widow Sally, and other important items including the papers of academic and writer Raymond Williams, and the South Wales Coalfield Collection. The archives are open to all by appointment.

Additional images of the notebook and the exhibition can be found here.