Overlooking the Atlantic waters beneath the cliffs of Tintagel, England, my heart felt a twinge of fear at the thought that we were staying the night at a castle-modeled hotel that was also a haven for scientologists.
Walking in the door of the hotel, photos of Nicholas Cage and Tom Cruise plastered the walls, as well as a multitude of paintings that consisted mainly of flung glitter and nylon butterflies. None of us truly knew what to expect.
Later that evening, after the sun had gone and the 40-some students in Professor of English Robin Metz’s class about Dylan Thomas huddled around a makeshift stage for the evening, students and professors alike held a reading of their own. Some of us read original poems, others poems by Thomas. Professor of Theatre Liz Carlin-Metz even performed a small piece by Edgar Lee Masters, whose roots also hail from Galesburg.
Throughout the trip, we had been made aware of these connections: Edgar Lee Masters, Dylan Thomas, Carl Sandburg. Coming from Galesburg, it can get longwinded that Sandburg’s birthplace is here and available to the public. Perhaps it is because he is so familiar already.
But walking through Thomas’ childhood home and the room in which he was actually brought into the world in Swansea, Wales was something else. Maybe it was the accent. Maybe it was the fact that we had flown all the way across the pond to do it. It made us truly see Thomas in another way.
We understand Sandburg because we come from where he comes from. Reading Thomas’ poems about the grey-green Welsh land is not as easy to understand, try as we might to imagine it. But as I stood in Laugharne, Wales and overlooked Thomas’ boathouse and the writing shed that he had all to himself, something clicked. The waves make his writing, the water, the intriguing Welsh accent and, also, the scotch make his writing.
For weeks we had studied his work, poetry and fiction. There was often a debate of whether he was truly brilliant or just a drunk, or could he just plainly be both?
Over the course of our trip we visited Swansea, Laugharne, New Quay, Aberystwyth and Cardiff, all of which are in Wales. We also ventured into Glastonbury and London in England. During our time spent in Wales, however, we nibbled on Welsh cakes and tried to mind the fact that the traffic goes in the opposite direction.
We visited Fern Hill, the site that inspired Thomas’ famous poem by the same name. Some of us lay between the thighs of a white giant outlined in a hillside in England, as this act was said to bring about fertility to any woman who might lie there. We walked where Thomas lived and saw what he saw and were able to see through his drunken eyes at last.