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It may sound sad to some but I have been a fan of Dylan Thomas for many years, in fact I can clearly remember borrowing books from the local library that were filled with his creative writing at the tender age of fifteen.
He was born on 27th October 1914 in Swansea, the first born child of David and Florence Thomas. David Thomas himself gained a First Class degree at the University of Aberystwyth and Florence was an accomplished seamstress. Dylan's quiet yet strong willed father was very much in love with the idea of becoming a poet himself but circumstances meant that he had to take a post as an English teacher at Swansea Grammar school, after all someone had to earn the proverbial crust. His Mother Florence had completely different ideas about life, she loved company and liked nothing better than having a little fun. If the truth were known the Thomas family were more often than not strapped for cash but outwardly appearances were everything . The middle class family lived in an up and coming area of Swansea, a maid was employed for the menial tasks and both Dylan and his sister Nancy enjoyed the luxury of elocution lessons, which incidentally had a long lasting impact on Dylan and he spoke with a cut glass accent.
I expect by now you are beginning to wonder why I am waffling on about Dylan's childhood but to get the measure of the man I feel it is important to know where he came from. Dylan wrote poetry from a very young age and he was strongly encouraged by his parents who desperately wanted him to do well. Dylan had other ideas, he excelled at English but apart from that he was a complete rebel, he left school in 1931 and secured a job as a reporter for the South Wales Evening Post. It was at some point during 1933 that his poetry was gaining recognition but by then Dylan had moved to London and was fast gaining a reputation as being a drunkard. Like many accomplished poets Dylan based his work on what he `knew` and that included his beloved Wales, childhood, lost innocence, life and death and a huge helping of nostalgia.
Dylan wrote his most famous radio play `Under Milk Wood` over a number of years. Some say that a visit to Newquay was the inspiration for the tale, others report that Dylan wrote the play as his stance against the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, it was his way of saying to the world that there was still much beauty in our troubled world.
Under Milk Wood beckons us to tune in to the ramblings of the Llareggub village ( a seaside village ) folk going about their daily business. ( This was a clever play on words, the village name Llareggub spelt backwards is `buggerall!) The play has around thirty two principal characters, so unless I bore you to tears I think we can only touch on a few of the most memorable ones!
Captain Cat is a retired Sea Captain who has lost all of his sight and constantly dreams of his old sea dog pals. In his dreams all of the crew of the S.S Kidwelly revisit him to chat. In one very poignant part Captain Cat has a chat with Rosie Probert (deceased) of 33, Duck Lane. Rosie is asking the Captain all about what he saw at sea and Rosie is spellbound when the Captain elaborates. Now Mrs Ogmore -Pritchard owns the village guest house and is a compulsive cleaner. She has been married and widowed twice, her first husband sold linoleum and he died of natural causes but her second husband was a bookmaker, his business failed and he committed suicide. Mrs Ogmore -Pritchard is very selective about who stays in her immaculate guest house and she is forever chatting to her two long departed husbands, constantly reminding them of their allotted tasks and the proper way to carry them out. Llareggub like any village has an inquisitive postman and Mr Willy Nilly eats, sleeps and dreams of delivering his mail.When he is tucked in bed at night nestled up against Mrs Willy Nilly he often taps her like a letterbox! But Mrs Willy Nilly is dreaming sweet dreams where she is being naughtily spanked for being late for school! Butcher Beynon is the village businessman who too has his own rather unusual dreams! His school teacher daughter is called Gossamer and she dreams her sexy dreams of illicit encounters with umknown sailors. Lily Small is the Beynons maid who also spends her life dreaming of love and lust! Myfanwy Price owns the local sweet shop and she also does dressmaking on the side for the villagers. She has a big thing going for Mog Edwards the village baker, who resists her advances at all costs!
Maybe that is enough information about the villagers for now, or you will know the play off by heart. As you see Dylan has taken village life, dissected it and then put it back together to suit his purpose, with a weird and wonderful outcome! In retrospect his imaginary village is in real life much like any village I have ever lived in! It is abound with gossip and everyone knows everything and everybody. Dylan has almost certainly added a lot of sexual undertone, which adds to the play in a delightful way! Llareggub goes about is business and Dylan charts the daily progress well. His eye for detail is second to none and one of the only ways that I can describe his writing is that he paints a Masterpiece on paper.
I just have to tell you about one more character, a man that is dear to me, the Reverend Eli Jenkins. Every village used to have its own Vicar and Llareggub was no different. The Reverend loves to write poetry and for me the ultimate moment comes when the Reverend Eli Jenkins stands at the door of Bethesda house and recites his `Sunset poem` to the village. The words are so touching they never fail to reduce me to tears, on the audio tape the prayer is put to music and it is often sung as a concert piece. It is especially magical if it is sung by a male voice choir.
The Reverend Eli Jenkins prayer.
Every morning when I wake, Dear lord, a little prayer I make, O please to keep thy lovely eye On all poor creatures born to die.
And every evening at sun-down I ask a blessing on the town, For whether we last the night or no I'm sure is always touch and go.
We are not wholly bad or good Who live our lives under Milk Wood, And thou, I know, wilt be the first To see our best side, not our worst.
O let us see another day! Bless us all this night, I pray, And to the sun we all will bow And say, Good -bye- but just for now!
Under Milk Wood was originally broadcast by BBC Radio. Dylan Thomas showed incredible writing skills as he penned the play. For anyone who has never read any of his work the play may seem strange, even disjointed. But as you re read the words it becomes crystal clear.
Under Milk Wood can be found on the Amazon website for as little a a couple of pounds. If you love words or play on words and admire anyone who can string seemingly simple words together and create a sense of mystique then Under Milk Wood would be a great read for you. The play is also available on an audio tape and this is where the Reverend Eli Jenkins Prayer is set to music. The audio tape has Richard Burton as the first voice and Sian Phillips as the second voice and once again is on the Amazon website for under ten pounds.