A President Expresses Concern on a Visit to Westminster Abbey
by Jimmy Carter
Poets’ Corner had no epitaph
to mark the Welshman’s
sullen art or craft
because, they said,
his morals were below
the standards there.
I mentioned the ways of Poe
and the censored Joyce’s works;
at least the newsmen listened,
noted my remarks,
and his wife, Caitlin, wrote.
We launched a clumsy, weak campaign,
the bishops met
and listened to the lilting lines again.
Later, some Welshmen brought to me
a copy of the stone
that honors now the beauty he set free
from a godhead of his own.
This poem appears in the author’s collection, Always a Reckoning and Other Poems (1995)
PHOTO: Portion of Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, London, United Kingdom. Photo by Carcharoth, used by permission.
NOTE: During his 1977 trip to the United Kingdom, U.S. President Jimmy Carter called for Dylan Thomas to be recognized at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Carter’s intervention resulted in the 1982 installation of a memorial plaque for the Welsh poet. Each year, a service is held at Westminster Abbey on the Saturday closest to the date of Thomas’s death. Poets’ Corner is the name given to a section of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey because of the high number of poets, playwrights, and writers buried and commemorated there in recognition of their contributions to British culture.
FROM WESTMINSTER-ABBEY.ORG: The memorial stone to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was unveiled in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey on 1st March 1982. It lies between memorials to Lord Byron and George Eliot and is made of green Penrhyn stone, sculpted by Jonah Jones. The inscription, with a quote from his poem “Fern Hill,” reads:
27 October 1914
9 November 1953
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea
Buried at Laugharne
PHOTO: Memorial plaque for Dylan Thomas, Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, installed in 1982. Photo by Welshboy2012, used by permission.
ABOUT DYLAN THOMAS: Born in Swansea, Wales, Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914-November 9, 1953) was a poet and writer whose works include the poems “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”; the “play for voices” Under Milk Wood; and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became widely popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death at the age of 39 in New York City. Although Thomas wrote exclusively in the English language, he has been acknowledged as one of the most important Welsh poets of the 20th century. Noted for his original, rhythmic, and ingenious use of words and imagery, he is considered one of the great modern poets.
TEXT OF NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE (May 11, 1977):
Dean Doubts Place in Abbey for Dylan Thomas
LONDON, May 10 (UPI)—The Dean of Westminster Abbey has disappointing news for Jimmy Carter. It could take years before the President’s favorite poet. Dylan Thomas, is commemorated in the abbey’s Poets’ Corner, if the Welshman is ever so honored.
On a visit to Westminster Abbey, Sunday, Mr. Carter met with Archdeacon Edward Knapp‐Fisher and expressed the hope that Thomas would one day join Shakespeare and Longfellow in the memorial chapel.
Mr. Knapp‐Fisher gently reminded the President that Thomas, a heavy drinker who died of cirrhosis of the liver in a New York Hospital in 1953, was a somewhat controversial character.
“I’ll pray for his soul if you’ll memorialize him,’ the President said. “I’d like to recommend him.” The archdeacon told Mr. Carter that a committee that decided on nominees for the Poet’s Corner would be meeting today and that he would pass on the recommendation.
Mr. Knapp‐Fisher was speaking of the Dean’s Chapter, a governing committee of five men who run the day-to‐day affairs of the abbey.
“No, the subject of Dylan Thomas did not arise,” the dean, the Very Rev. Dr. Edward Carpenter, said after the meeting today. “That isn’t quite the way things work here.”
The meeting, he said, had been a regular discussion “of many routine affairs.”
“There was no decision,” Dr. Carpenter said, “and nor will there be in the immediate future, Memorializing a poet is a long process involving a lot of discussions and consultations that might take months or even years.”
Dr. Carpenter said the final decision rested with him alone, though he would “get in touch with numerous people” before reaching any conclusions.
The President’s autobiography, Why Not the Best?  includes a Thomas poem as a preface.
Mr. Carter reportedly wanted to visit the South Wales fishing village of Laugharne, where Thomas lived and is buried.
Prime Minister James Callaghan is said to have dissuaded the President, fearing that the visit would arouse independence‐minded Welsh nationalists. Instead, Mr. Carter visited the northeast England industrial city of Newcastle‐upon‐Tyne.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Earl Carter Jr. (born October 1, 1924) is an American politician, philanthropist, and former farmer who served as the 39th president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served as a Georgia State Senator from 1963 to 1967 and as the 76th governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975. Since leaving the presidency, Carter has remained engaged in political and social projects as a private citizen. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in co-founding the Carter Center, which he established in 1982 to promote and expand human rights. He has traveled extensively to conduct peace negotiations, monitor elections, and advance disease prevention and eradication in developing nations. Carter is considered a key figure in the Habitat for Humanity charity. He has written over 30 books, ranging from political memoirs to poetry, while continuing to actively comment on ongoing American and global affairs. The earliest-serving of the five living U.S. presidents, Carter is the longest-lived president, the longest-retired president, the first to live 40 years after his inauguration, and the first to live beyond the age of 95.
PHOTO: Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Jimmy Carter at Buckingham Palace in May 1977 while Carter was in the United Kingdom on official business. On May 7 and 8, 1977, Carter attended the Economic Summit Meeting of the Heads of State and Government of Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom. He also met with the Prime Ministers of Greece, Belgium, Turkey, Norway, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and with the President of Portugal, and addressed the NATO Ministers meeting on May 10.
One thought on “A President Expresses Concern on a Visit to Westminster Abbey by Jimmy Carter”