THE DEATH of Dylan Thomas in 1953 was the cause of the most singular demonstration of suffering in modern literary history. One searches his memory in vain for any parallel to it. At thirty-nine Thomas had endeared himself to the literary youth of England and America, to most of the poets who were his contemporaries, and to many who were his elders; he was the master of a public which he himself had brought out of nothingness; he was the idol of writers of every description and the darling of the press. (The Press scented him early and nosed him to the grave.) Critics had already told how Thomas became the first poet who was both popular and obscure. In an age when poets are supposed to be born old, everyone looked upon Thomas as the last of the young poets. When he died, it was as if there would never be any more youth in the world. Or so it seemed in the frenzy of his year-long funeral, a funeral which, like one of Thomas' own poems, turned slowly into a satanic celebration and a literary institution.
When Yeats and Valéry died, old and wise and