Poet's passionate love letter is the one that got away

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Arts Reporter

A passionate love letter from Dylan Thomas to his future wife Caitlin, given to a fishmonger in a bundle of waste paper during the Second World War, is to be sold at auction later this month.

The unpublished letter by the Welsh poet and playwright was probably written to Caitlin Macnamara in the early 1930s on leaves torn from a lined exercise book.

It is thought to have survived only because Caitlin, or one of her family, gave it to the local fishmonger in Ringwood, Hampshire, to wrap up fish for delivery during the war.

Caitlin destroyed most of Dylan's letters to her in a fit of rage, and Dylan himself died in 1953 after a heavy drinking bout.

Dated "Friday morning 17th, I think," Dylan's letter from his parent's home in Swansea begins: "Caitlin darling darling" and goes on, "I love you for millions and millions of things, clocks and vampires and dirty nails and squiggly paintings and lovely hair and being dizzy and falling dreams". The young poet continues: "I want you to be with me; you can have all the spaces between the houses, and I can have a room with no windows; we'll make a halfway house; you can teach me to walk in the air, and I'll teach you to make nice noises on the piano without any music; we'll have a bed in a bar, as we said we would, and we shan't have any money at all and we'll live on other people's." The letter - whose predictions proved remarkably accurate - is being sold at Sotheby's by Ruth Cutler, 60, the daughter of the fishmonger who acquired it.

She explained: "My father Thomas Topp had a wet-fish shop in the town of Ringwood, near Bournemouth, and he would deliver fish on his fish round. When paper became short, he asked people to give him their old newspapers and in the evenings he and my mother would sit and slit them open ready to wrap the fish.

"One day my mother Victoria came across the letter to Caitlin, and of course she knew the Macnamara family because they were quite notorious and very Bohemian. She read it and told my father it was the most beautiful letter she had read in her life and if a man had written something like that to her, she'd have worn it round her neck."

Mrs Topp kept it for the rest of her life. The fish shop was sold, however, when Mr Topp joined the forces and the letter was inherited by Mrs Cutler after her mother's death in 1970.

It is expected to fetch up to pounds 2,500 when it is sold on 24 July.

"My mother only realised who it was by when she heard the play Under Milk Wood on the radio," Mrs Cutler added. "That was the first time she realised that the dreadful Dylan Thomas who had been courting Caitlin had actually made good - and that he was the author of the letter we possessed."