And the story continues…
What ensued is enshrined in legend – they all embarked on a drunken pub-crawl, which famously ended up with Dylan and Augustus fighting outside a Carmarthen pub. John won the fight but Dylan would win the girl. Although popular opinion has John sulking he had a plentiful supply of mistresses and he and Dylan became friends.
John would go on to paint famous portraits of Dylan – one of them commissioned as the frontispiece to ‘The Map of Love‘, Dylan’s third book, a collection of stories and poems published in 1939. John would keep a kind and watchful eye over the young couple, sending them care packages when they were really hard up, as this excerpt from an unpublished letter from Dylan to Augustus, sent in 1945 indicates;
‘What a lovely thing to arrive……the gift could never have been more welcome……with the wolves not only at the door but sitting on the dresser, praying and snarling. Thank you very, very much indeed.’
The two seemed to have enjoyed a playful love/hate relationship as this recorded exchange of alliterative invective demonstrates,
Augustus: ‘You are nothing but a pot-bellied purveyor of pornographic poetry’.
Dylan: ‘And you are a bigoted begetter of bastards’
Dylan would later include satirical portraits of Nina Hamnett and Augustus John in his collaborative novel ‘The Death of the King’s Canary‘ (John Davenport was the co-author). It was published posthumously in 1976, with Nina appearing as ‘Yvonne Bacon’ and Augustus John as ‘Hercules Jones’.
Dylan and Caitlin visited the town for pleasure and to visit relatives of Caitlin’s but towards the end of his life Dylan visited Tenby for an important solo performance of ‘Under Milk Wood‘. The Tenby & District Arts Club, a lively literary society, had first invited Dylan to speak to them in 1949 but it was not until 1953 – the last year of his life – that Dylan eventually made it. At this time he was between his third and fourth (fatal) trip to America and under great pressure from the BBC to complete his radio play. Thus it was then on October 2nd 1953 he used his visit to Tenby, probably his last engagement in Britain, to test out his greatest play. The performance took place in a local cafe, ‘The Salad Bowl’, and was by all accounts a great success. Few in the lucky audience that night would have realised that little more than a month later Dylan would lie dying in a New York Hospital.
The Dylan Thomas Centre has an original letter by Augustus John to Dylan’s friend Mervyn Levy, together with some photos of the artists and reproductions of his work. His portrait of Caitlin is in the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea.
Informative leaflets on Nina Hamnett and Augustus John are available at the Tenby Art Gallery, which also has a good display of their work as well as that of Gwen John, Augustus’ sister and herself a fine artist.
Leave Tenby going north on the A478. After approx. three miles turn right on to the A477 to St. Clears. Through St. Clears take the A4066 down to Laugharne.