Yesterday I took a break from reading, and went to listen to a play.
Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood is sub-titled “a play for voices”. Thomas wrote this long play in verse for the BBC in 1954. It is a play to be listened to and the sound of the beautiful poetry of Thomas is the main attraction, but the Stanford University production is also a joy to watch. The eight animated readers on the small stage of the Pigott Theater put on an entertaining show with their animated reading that gives life to the beautiful poetry. Let me be clear, this play is definitely meant to be listened to, it is very difficult reading.
The play begins with First Voice speaking to the audience.
An all-seeing narrator invites the audience to listen to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of an imaginary small Welsh village, Llareggub (“bugger all” spelt backwards) – though re-spelt in early editions as Llaregyb so as not to offend)
“To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.”
“Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of Bethesda with winds gloved and folded, and dew doffed; tumbling by the Sailors Arms.
Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Come closer now.
Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night. Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms. and petticoats over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth, Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the dead. Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams.
From where you are, you can hear their dreams.”
Selected from opening soliloquy of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. This selection was taken from the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy on-line text of the full poem. The library’s web address is:
You can listen to Richard Burton speaking this poem on YouTube:
Give yourself a present; take 10 minutes off and listen to the unforgettable voice of Burton in a memorable performance of the opening words of Under Milk Wood.
Day 40: Under Milk Wood: A Play for Voices (Dylan Thomas) (1954).