In Under Milk Wood, the First Voice serves as a narrator loosely holding together the other voices, which are of the dead former residents of the village called Llareggub. Voices come from the cemetery’s graves; befitting the village’s seaside location, many of the dead were drowned.
The play opens with a lengthy monologue by the First Voice, which establishes the overall somber but slightly humorous mood, as well as the full, rich tone of the prose. The First Voice describes the village at night and some its living, sleeping people and animals.
And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now…. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed yards….
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.
One by one, more voices join in, as the audience hears from the numberless dead. The drowned speak to the sleeping Captain Cat, a blind, retired sea captain. They ask how things are going in the land of the living.
FIRST DROWNED: How’s it above?
SECOND DROWNED: Is there rum and laverbread?
THIRD DROWNED: Bosoms and robins?
FOURTH DROWNED: Concertinas?
Captain Cat later describes the actions among the living, describing townspeople going about their normal activities. The First Voice tells us that he is the town bell ringer and that sitting at an open window, he “hears all the morning of the town.” The captain distinguishes the women by their voices and usual tasks, and as he describes them, they speak in turn.
CAPTAIN CAT: All the women are out this morning, in the sun. You can tell it’s Spring. There goes Mrs Cherry, you can tell her by her trotters, off she trots new as a daisy .Who’s that talking by the pump? Mis Floyd and Boyo, talking flatfish. What can you talk about flatfish? … Who’s that? Mrs Butcher Beynon with her pet black cat, it follows her everywhere, miaow and all….
FIRST WOMAN: Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard
SECOND WOMAN: la di da
FIRST WOMAN: got a man in Builth Wells
THIRD WOMAN: and he got a little telescope to look at birds….
The play ends at the close of day, with the First Voice telling how the town goes to sleep as “the thin night darkens . . .”