There is a certain Bohemian air that surrounds the lives of the world’s greatest poets.
Poets must be free to write or seek the inspiration to write whenever the spirit moves them, to carefully craft words into beautiful descriptive sentences that create a form of art that moves the human soul.
Perhaps it is only natural that poetry lovers are curious about authors of great poetry and their lives.
Many of the greatest poets have museums in their honour, but the ultimate honour is to have the family home preserved. Today, you can visit the former homes of many of the world’s most renowned poets and catch a glimpse into their lives and their artistic process. In some cases, you can even spend the night.
Discovering Dylan Thomas in Wales
“Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”
— Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
“I could write poetry if I lived here,” declared the middle-aged woman sitting next to me on a wooden bench outside the boathouse that was once the home of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
“All I need to live Dylan Thomas’s life is a whiskey in my hand and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth,” she added wistfully.
I wasn’t too sure about the whiskey and the cigarette, but as I watched the sun glistening off the water and listened to the gulls calling in the distance, I was pretty sure at that moment I could write poetry, too.
Dylan Thomas was one of Britain’s greatest 20th century poets and although he was born in Wales, he lived a peripatetic life, roaming the world and writing. He is remembered today with the Dylan Thomas Trail, which features the most important houses and landscapes that influenced his extraordinary life.
One of the key sites along the Dylan Thomas Trail is the Boat House located in Laugharne, Wales, where Thomas composed many of his works. The house was purchased for him by his patron Margaret Taylor and is today a memorial to the poet. You can tour the inside of the home and even catch a glimpse of the “writing shed,” where the poet spent his time crafting his art.
In nearby Swansea, you can you can also visit and rent Dylan Thomas House, the birthplace and family home of the poet for 23 years.
More info: For more information on the Dylan Thomas Trail, visit: www.thewordtravels.com/dylanthomas.html. More information on the boathouse can be found at: www.dylanthomasboathouse.com and information on staying in the house where Dylan Thomas was born and raised in Swansea is available at dylanthomashouse.com.
William Shakespeare’s Birthplace
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”
— William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Hamlet
Nearly half a million people visit the house known as Shakespeare’s Birthplace every year to learn about the life of one of the world’s greatest writers, poets, and playwrights, because to understand Shakespeare one must understand the place and time in which he lived.
Visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace opens a window into another time and provides some insights into the great man’s life.
Though Shakespeare is renowned as one of the world’s great literary influences, very little is actually known about him. Historians have been able to piece together some information from registrar records, court records, wills, marriage certificates and even his tombstone. They have also learned about him from visiting his home town and studying the era in which he lived.
A visit to Stratford-upon-Avon is a must for anyone who loves Shakespeare and wants to have some insight into what inspired him to become the great writer and poet he was. In the town, you can visit the place he was born and his final resting place as well as several other properties linked to his family.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust organization, which owns and operates the home known as Shakespeare’s Birthplace, has the societal goal of “leading the world’s enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s work, life and times,” making the house the ideal place to start an exploration and study of William Shakespeare.
Inside the home, costumed interpreters recreate life in the 1500s when Shakespeare was growing up. In an upstairs space, you learn more about Shakespeare’s life in a small museum.
Perhaps the best part of the tour is the costumed actors who act out a small scene from a classic Shakespearean play. On the day we visited, they were performing a scene from Hamlet.
Shakespeare spent a good portion of his working life in London, but something always drew him back to the heart of England. At the end of his prolific career, he went back to Stratford — to live out his days near the River Avon.
More than four centuries later, his spirit still seems to be present.
More info: Shakespeare’s Birthplace is located in middle England in Stratford-upon-Avon and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs £12.50 for adults, £8.00 for children, and £33.50 for families. For more information on Shakespeare’s Birthplace, visit www.shakespeare.org.uk.
Getting to Know The Bard in Alloway, Scotland
“Now do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross!”
— from Tam o’Shanter by Robert Burns (1759-1796)
I have to admit, I did not feel the least bit of trepidation as I walked across the 13th century Scottish bridge known as the Brig o’Doon. Then again, it was a warm autumn afternoon and no witches were in sight.
The Brig o’Doon, or Bridge of Doon, is a stone bridge located inside Burns National Heritage Park in Alloway, Scotland a few blocks from the cottage that was the birthplace of Scottish poet Robert Burns. The bridge was made famous by the Burns’ poem Tam o’Shanter, which features a frightened o’Shanter fleeing across the bridge on his horse Meg to escape from three witches who are closing in on him.
One look at the picturesque beauty of the area and you can easily see why this part of Scotland inspired a poet’s heart and pen.
Robert Burns is celebrated as the national poet of Scotland. In his lifetime and since his passing at only 37 years of age, he has had many nicknames, including Rabbi Burns, Scotland’s favourite son, the Ploughman’s Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire or, in Scotland, simply The Bard.
Regardless of what name he is given, there is no doubt he is the best known and most beloved of the poets who wrote in the traditional Scots language.
A first stop at Burns National Heritage Park is Burns Cottage, the birthplace of Scotland’s national poet. The cottage has been fully restored to its original condition and a visit includes an audio-visual interpretation that brings to life the childhood world of Robert Burns. The onsite museum contains original manuscripts, artifacts and memorabilia from the poet and his life. Personal items, letters and artworks also lend insight into his life and work.
More info: Burns National Heritage Park is located in Alloway, which is near Glasgow, Scotland. The park is open year-round, seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except for certain holidays. There is a small fee to visit the cottage, the museum or to take in the Tam O’Shanter experience. The monument, statue house and gardens are free for visitors. For more information on the park and the life of Robert Burns, visit www.burnsheritagepark.com.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.