Under Milk Wood

by Dylan Thomas

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Last Updated on December 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745

Under Milk Wood is a radio play written by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, commissioned by the BBC and first performed in 1954. The setting for the play is a fictional Welsh fishing village called Llareggub, which if read backward gives an interesting comment on the village and what happens there (which is “bugger all''). The name is also of interest for being similar to many Welsh place names because of the double "l." Interestingly, this was also used as part of the title for the piece, but it was changed to Under Milk Wood to appeal to American audiences. Like most of Dylan Thomas's work, this piece is rich with poetic language and playful use of image and technique.

The play opens with two narrators alternating their descriptions of the town. The townspeople of Llareggub are fast asleep on a spring night; First Voice and Second Voice bring the audience into the world of the townspeople’s dreams. We visit the dreams of Captain Cat, a sea captain who has retired. He dreams of his shipmates who have died from drowning, as well as his lover, Rosie Probert, who is with him no more. The Captain’s dreams are, evidently, of an upsetting nature. Some people have romantic dreams of one another: Mr. Mog Edwards, the draper, dreams of the dressmaker and sweetshop owner, Miss Myfanwy Price, while she dreams of him. People like the drunken Mr. Waldo and Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard dream of their crumbled marriages, or bossing around the ghosts of their former spouses, in the case of the latter. Polly Garter, a mother of many, dreams of children. In a rather unsettling pair, the butcher dreams of hunting, while the butcher's wife dreams her husband is punished for the suspicious quality of his meat. The baker, who is engaged in a polygamous marriage, dreams of a harem. The schoolmaster subconsciously imagines poisoning his wife; Jack Black, the cobbler, thinks about ruining romantic trysts in the wooded area called Milk Wood. Reverend Eli dreams of a Welsh festival of the arts. 

The morning light begins to appear, and First and Second Voice are paused momentarily for some context. This is brought, fittingly, by the Voice of a Guide-Book. We learn that Llareggub is a once-prosperous fishing town that is slowly deteriorating. Its inhabitants are quirky and eccentric, very much fitting the stereotype of a coastal, industrial town. The Voice of a Guide-Book notes that most visitors will merely see a decaying fishing village; it takes a special eye and disposition to appreciate the nooks and crannies of Llareggub. 

By now, the day is in full swing. The townspeople whose dreams the audience witnessed before are now awake, though some dream scenarios seem to have been carried into the light. The schoolmaster, Mr. Pugh, still daydreams about poisoning his wife. The butcher jokes with his wife about the very meat she was suspicious about. A maid who dreamt of romance is bored with her mundane tasks, thinking of a life of love. The mailman goes about his delivery and we discover he and his wife secretly open the townspeople’s mail. They are regular sources of gossip, therefore, and today is no different. 

Much of the day is concerned with the hustle and bustle of town life. Children play, people move about the streets, and Captain Cat observes these goings on. He still misses his long-lost love, Rosie, and sheds tears thinking of her. The Reverend is developing a book about the town and its residents to be titled “The White Book of Llareggub.” Gossamer Beynon, the schoolteacher, and Sinbad Sailors, the owner...

(This entire section contains 745 words.)

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of the Sailors Arms bar, both secretly have feelings for one another. As the day begins to wind down, Captain Cat dreams restlessly of his love and the lost sailors. Many congregate at Sinbad’s for a drink as the women prepare for dancing. There is a discussion about the sinfulness of dancing, though it does not seem to stop anybody. 

Our lovebirds from before, Mr. Mog Edwards and Miss Myfanwy Price, write romantic letters to one another in their homes. Polly and Mr. Ward are sneaking off to Milk Wood for a lovers' retreat, and Jack Black prepares to disrupt their time together. First and Second Voice discuss the titular Milk Wood. In the words of various townspeople, it is sanctuary, sin, and innocence all in one. Ending in a cyclical fashion, the town of Llareggub returns to dreaming as night falls.