Dylan Thomas's debts to the two Irish giants of early twentieth-century anglophone literature, W. B. Yeats and James Joyce, are considerable. Writing to Pamela Hansford Johnson in 1933, Thomas listed Yeats among a roll call of the poetic greats, ‘Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Blake, John Donne, Verlaine’, against whose work Wordsworth's ‘Immortality Ode’ should be judged ‘no more than moderately good’; the tribute of imitation and parody had already been paid in the 1930 uncollected schoolboy poems ‘In Borrowed Plumes’ and ‘Osiris, Come to Isis’. The interim title of ‘Altarwise by owl-light’ – ‘Work in Progress’ – and the published title of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) similarly signal the Joycean terrain (linguistic, autobiographical, urban) on which Thomas built. Among some Irish contemporaries, Thomas's work was in turn greeted with enthusiasm. Louis MacNeice became friendly with the Welsh poet in the early 1940s in London, where both were engaged in writing propaganda, and there are clear parallels in their poetic responses to the Second World War. When Thomas's death came, it also represented more than just a personal loss to MacNeice. As Terence Brown describes, in MacNeice's Autumn Sequel (1954) Thomas's passing ‘is treated as if it represented the death of all poetry, the obsequies appropriately being conducted in that half-Ireland, Wales’. In the work where MacNeice most closely tends towards playing the role of a British national poet (written, it should be remembered, to be broadcast on the BBC), he tries in quasi-Arnoldian fashion to pit Celtic character against London's deadening despotism of fact partly through elegising Thomas as somewhat Irish. By contrast, Patrick Kavanagh in 1950, in one of his iconoclastic columns in the Dublin magazine Envoy, claimed that ‘Auden and Dylan Thomas, Moravia, Sartre, Pound are all Irish poets. They have all said the thing that delighted me, a man born in Ireland, so they must have a great deal of Irish in them.’ Thomas is so cast as a figure of international artistic reach who cuts across the diktats of cultural nationalism.
That Thomas might be presented both as a visionary regional voice and a cosmopolitan among cosmopolitans (by two poets whose own critical stereotyping has often run the other way) points not only to the complexity of Thomas's work and its critical fortunes, but also to the nature of the reception afforded to Thomas and his work by Irish writers then and since.