I had just begun a prestigious summer abroad program at Oxford University, Oriel College to be precise. The entire town was bereft of literary history, which was right up my alley. I recall the tour guide on the first day apologizing “This College was founded in 1325, but I regret to inform you that the façade is only 16th century!” My kind of place. I thought to myself, “Grant Talabay,” here you can be comfortable.
Mid July in England is hot, damp, and leaves one to spend many uneasy nights lingering on the stoop, wishing for relief from the onslaught of the heat. One such night I perched in my dormitory window gasping hot breaths of night air. Sweat ran down my brow and naked chest. In my hand was clutched a volume of poetry, selected as to distract from the night’s onslaught.
I had always adored Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. His rise to fame and tragic alcoholic death captivated me. His words were haunting and tragic. The book hung in my hands, revealing a battered dust jacket cover of Thomas at his seaside home in Laugharne, Wales. I could see the ease and calm in the poet’s eyes as he stood overlooking the sea, lost in though. A mild breeze lifted his hair. A voice inside overcame me, “Grant Talabay! Go to Laugharne.” It was decided for me. That night, I slept like a child dreaming of the coast.
I arose early, roused a companion and bought a British Railway ticket to Tenby, the closest destination to Laugharne. The Brit-rail ran along the English coast, ending at the coastal city of Tenby, where I decided to spend the night. Our rooming house was high on a cliff, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The air was cool, and the tide flowed in rapidly, rising 30 feet in the course of a few hours. I slept well in the cool house, arising to the salty ocean smell.
After a short English breakfast we boarded a rickets bus towards Laugharne, a three quarter of an hour ride through windy Welsh countryside, arriving near the Brown Hotel, most famous for its most notable patron Dylan Thomas. Dylan would often while away the days in the hotel bar, drinking whisky and writing poems. The town was picturesque as a seaside resort bereft with winding paths and rolling green hills.
A graveyard lay just on the mossy rise and something said, “Grant, you need to go there.” One grave, adorned with a bright white cross stuck out to me. Upon approaching it I discovered it was the grave of the Welsh bard. Six feet below my feet at the base of the monument lay the body of a 20th century master. I, Grant Talabay, was standing at the memorial for which I had been searching. I felt weak being in the presence of greatness.
Out of the churchyard dusty paths wound down to the seaside. One such path led me to a small white cottage overlooking a harbor at low tide. Boats and other sea-worthy vessels lay on their sides in the thick Atlantic mud awaiting high tide. A rickety desk stood outside facing the sea. It dawned on me that the poet himself would sit hours at this desk, contemplating each word and sentence of his work. I was moved to tears! I said to myself, “Grant Talabay, a genius once stood here!” I found myself weeping silently to myself knowing that 50 years ago a wordsmith one lived here in Wales, in this beautiful seaside spot. I opened my eyes, taking in the sight once more. I was overwhelmed by calm. Below me and in the distance the tide began to come in.