Authors who are "Differently Expertised"...

Authors who are "Differently Expertised"...

27 June 2010

Great Writers - Great Alcolholics?

What is it about great writers and alcoholism? Or is it "social" drinking? 
Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Virginia Wolfe. Sylvia Platt, Dylan Thomas... would they have written their great works without being under the influence?

Each of our authors will weigh in on this subject this week.

If musicians are disproportionately addicted to narcotics such as heroin, writers seem disproportionately addicted to alcohol. Dylan Thomas literally drank himself to death in New York in 1953. But he left amazing creations such as A Child's Christmas in Wales and the incredible poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 I read this as per my sister's request at her husband's funeral in 2004, trying desperately not to add Dylan's Welsh inflection  -- and failing miserably. 

Here is Sir Anthony Hopkins, of Port Talbot, reading this poem:

Written as his father lay dying of cancer in Swansea, Wales, Thomas poured all his resentment and sense of injustice into a rant against death.  I am amazed at how coherent the man's compositions are considering the legendary amount of alcohol he consumed on a daily basis. Accompanied in New York by his closest compatriots Richard Burton and Richard Harris, Thomas would go on extended binges of inebriation for three to seven days at a time. Yet this is the man who wrote "Under Milkwood" expressively for Burton and took New York by storm.

What is it with alcohol and writers? Is the the erasure of inhibition, the lowering of the walls that contain all that is proper and polite that allows wordsmiths free rein to express what is normally considered "off topic" or "taboo" from polite society's general conversations? And knowing what we do now about alcohol and the terrible price exacted from numerous organ systems in the human body, is releasing creativity  by such means worth the risk?


1 comment:

Moochi's Mom said...

There seems to be two questions here: one dealing with alcoholic content and writing, and the other concerns Dylan's thoughts on dying.

Stephen King dealt with both alcohol and drugs in his early writing days and surmised that both vices (addictions) were necessary during the time he was dealing with them. He liked the writing he did then. But what was happening in real life - marriage and then kids - didn't jell with his addictions and he stopped, and his writing didn't suffer.

What do we, those other writers who don't drink or "use," use to help us write? Do we use what is going on in our lives as an aid to help us write? Do we use our thoughts on our marriages, our kids, our mentally ill sisters, the shits we were married to, as our writing aids?

Is dwelling on our life's problems a form of booze or pot? Does our anger, sadness, self-pity, unanswered prayers for change, or, conversely, our happiness, satisfaction, etc., drive our writing forward? Is it the "fall back on and write what you know" adage? (And who knows you better than you? I mean the deep down, gut-wrenching honesty that comes to you during those dark hours, when you examine your soul, and you come to the realization that if pushed to your limits you might be able to, no, you ARE capable of giving your enemy a gentle push off of the cliff they're standing too close to).

Do you need alcohol for that kind of soul-searching?

Was Dylan writing about his fear of dying from his alcoholism the true force behind his poem that raged against death, and not his father's impending death? Or were his drinking binges a form of attempted suicide, and his exhortation about "not going gentle into that good night" a plea to himself?