Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Town

Under Milk Wood: A Play for VoicesUnder Milk Wood: 
A Play for Voices 
by Dylan Thomas

"You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.
Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.
And you alone can hear the invisible starfall, the darkest-before- dawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.
Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llareggub Hill, dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood." (p 13)

Under Milk Wood, the “impression for voices” which Dylan Thomas had been trying to finish for over a decade, received its first public reading on this day in 1953. It was still not finished, but Thomas was on tour in America at the time, and the promised Harvard reading went ahead, the author scribbling additions and changes until the last minute. 

It is a unique work that, as a play for radio, incorporates poetry and is imbued throughout with the imagination of a poet. It can be experienced in many ways: as an evocation of a town in a time and place, specific yet universal; but one may also relish the language, the magnificent wordplay from one of the finest of twentieth-century poets. It is this evocative language that makes it a great play for radio and one that begs to be read aloud when you are closeted in your cozy reading room.

There are memorable characters who the reader discovers through brief monologues, poems, or often merely snatches of conversation with townspeople trading one-liners. It portrays a day in the life of Llareggub, an imaginary small Welsh seaside town — Laugharne, say all but the residents of New Quay, the other Welsh seaside town where Thomas lived and wrote in a small writing shed.  Dylan Thomas had much experience with works for radio and this play that gestated for more than a decade was the result of his great poetic gifts.

"The thin night darkens.  A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood." (p 88)

View all my reviews


R.T. said...

You have swept me away into the past -- 1964 -- when I "performed" various roles in a readers' theater production of _Under Milk Wood_ as an undergraduate theater major. I remember only one line:
"Lie down, lie easy, let me shipwreck in your thighs."
I would later shipwreck with one of the coeds in the production, the one who would draw "lipstick circles on her nipples."
That was heady stuff for a college sophomore.
Thanks for thrusting me into the time-machine of memories.

James said...

R. T.,
Thanks for your observations and the quote. I am impressed that you experienced this work so soon after its first performance. Dylan Thomas's poetry has been a long-time favorite of mine.

R.T. said...

James, I must correct my sieve-like memory. My production experience was either 1969 or 1970. I conflated and confused different phases of my college years (1963-1964 and 1969-1972) which were interrupted by my first term of military service. If I had thought more carefully about the damsel with whom I dallied (as a result of the production), I would have been led to the more accurate memory of the year(s). Ain't memory -- like Dylan Thomas would understand -- a rather loosely knit and tattered garment?

Brian Joseph said...

It is interesting how so much art and meaning can be extracted from such "day in the life" narratives.

Radio plays had a unique charm. I believe that a few folks are still writing them.