As well as inspiring “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” Dylan Thomas’s father had a significant overall impact on his son’s life and the poetry he wrote. David John Thomas, known as DJ, taught English at the grammar school Dylan attended, but had higher aspirations and believed his education merited him a more prestigious academic career. DJ wrote poetry himself and introduced his son to literature at an early age, teaching him to recite verses by Shakespeare by age four. Dylan would later credit this early exposure to language, from nursery rhymes to fine literature, as a key influence.
“The first poems I knew were nursery rhymes, and before I could read them for myself I had come to love just the words of them, the words alone. What the words stood for, symbolized, or meant was of a very secondary importance—what mattered was the very sound of them,” he wrote. “Those words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain.” At school, Dylan was an unremarkable student except in English, but DJ was in charge of the school’s literary magazine and quickly published his son’s poems. At sixteen, Dylan left school to become a reporter, then a freelance journalist. “Dylan had always written poetry not only to please himself but also his father,” the poet’s wife, Caitlin, recalled.
Though both of his parents spoke Welsh and had strong ties to Welsh culture, Dylan and his sister Nancy were brought up to speak only English, and his father forbade speaking Welsh at home. Despite being strongly associated with Wales, his son inherited this disdain for Welsh nationalism and wrote a screenplay in which a character declared Wales was the “land of my fathers, and my fathers can keep it,” playing on the title of the Welsh national anthem. A friend is quoted as saying “I only once heard Dylan express an opinion on Welsh Nationalism. He used three words. Two of them were Welsh Nationalism.”