Posted on | March 7, 2012 | 1 Comment
Dylan Thomas, Sherlock Holmes & the case of the Stolen Conversation
A STARTLING CASE OF WORD-THEFT HAS JUST COME TO LIGHT FEATURING some of the words of Arthur Conan Doyle. As you would expect Holmes is on the case and a suspect has already been identified – none other than Welsh wordsmith DYLAN THOMAS!
Thomas has previous – in 1927 the young teenager sent the Western Mail – the National newspaper of Wales – a poem His Requiem – which he had cribbed from the Boy’s Own Paper where it had been published four years earlier. The Western Mail subsequently published the poem under his own name in the Wales Day by Day column. In one of his autobiographical short stories, THE FIGHT, first published in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog  Dylan alludes to his subterfuge and offers a kind of confession;
A poem I had had printed in the Western Mail was pasted on the mirror to make me blush, but the shame of the poem had died. Across the poem I had written with a stolen quill and in flourishes: ‘Homer Nods’.
It was some 40 years later that the theft came to light when his friend Daniel Jones included the poem in his new edition of Thomas’ Poems [Dent 1971]. The daughter of the true author – Lilian Gard, happened to spot her mother’s work and exposed the theft in the national press and Daniel Jones was forced to remove the poem from subsequent printings.
In the current case it appears that even as a mature writer Thomas was not averse to a little literary ‘borrowing’. In a recent book – THE FIRST XV a selection of the best rugby writing [PARTHIAN 2011] the editors include an extract from Dylan’s 1953 T V script A Story , which describes in humorous detail a boozy charabanc pub crawl by a group of West Walian village menfolk. In one pub they encounter a local braggart:
They stopped at the Hermit’s Nest for a rum to keep out the cold. ‘I played for Aberavon in 1898’
said a stranger to Enoch Davies.
‘Liar,’ said Enoch Davies
‘I can show you photos,’ said the stranger
‘Forged,’ said Enoch Davies
‘And I’ll show you my cap at home.’
‘I got friends to prove it,’ the stranger said in a fury
‘Bribed ‘, said Enoch Davies.
It is this passage that appears remarkably close to this from Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes story
A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA:…
‘Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If this young person should produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she to prove their authenticity?’
‘There is the writing.’
Pooh, pooh! Forgery.’
‘My private notepaper.’
‘My own seal.’
Should we just dismiss this with a shrug that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ or do we remember T.S. Eliot’s adage –
Immature poets imitate:
mature poets steal
*I must thank Kerith Trick, the son of Bert Trick, Swansea’s communist grocer and Dylan Thomas’s influential friend and political mentor. It was Kerith who first alerted me to this theft. It is also worth noting that once while visiting with Bert, Dylan heard his daughter Pamela ask him ‘What colour is glory’. The question so intrigued and beguiled Thomas that he later used it in his note books poems and finally it appears in ‘My World is a Pyramid‘ ,the penultimate poem in Dylan’s first collection 18 Poems 
Who blows death’s feather? What glory is colour?
I blow the stammel feather in the vein.