First Voice invites the listener “to begin at the beginning” before setting the scene. It’s the middle of the night in a small, quaint fishing village. Everyone in the town is sound asleep. The darkness of night renders the houses as “blind as Captain Cat,” and it’s quiet enough to “hear the dew falling.” First Voice addresses the listener directly, explaining that only they are awake to see the ships bobbing up and down in the sea, and to experience the townspeople’s dreams. The stillness of night pervades everything in town from the chapel to the pub, to Dai Bread’s bakery.
First Voice’s narrative instruction “to begin at the beginning” addresses the listener directly, drawing them into the play and explicitly highlighting the active storytelling involved in bringing to life the play’s setting, characters, and plot. In establishing where “the beginning,” starts, First Voice imposes a narrative structure onto an otherwise formless setting. The peaceful quietness First Voice emphasizes in this opening scene suggests that the play’s setting is a quaint, simple place—the very opposite of a bustling, crowded city.
First Voice urges the listener to listen as “time passes.” He describes Captain Cat, the blind sea-captain, asleep in his bunk on his ship, the S. S. Kidwelly. Second Voice interjects to describe Captain Cat’s dreams, in which he plummets deep into the sea and is greeted by his deceased shipmates First Drowned, Second Drowned, Third Drowned, Fourth Drowned, and Rosie Probert, who all recount the circumstances of their death. Second Drowned recalls how he and Captain Cat both had sexual relations with Rosie Probert. The drowned ask Captain Cat to fill them in on the goings on of the town they left behind. First Drowned asks if there is “washing on the line,” Second Drowned asks about “rum and laverbread,” and Fourth Drowned asks about “Concertinas” and “Ebenezer’s bell.” Captain Cat quickly becomes overwhelmed by all the voices.
First Voice’s advice to listen as “time passes” suggests that one can clearly discern the effects of time on the town in which the play takes place: perhaps the town is worn down and has seen better days, or perhaps its people are preoccupied with the past. Captain Cat’s dreams of his deceased shipmates certainly supports the latter speculation: the retired sea captain’s dreams are haunted by the ghosts of the shipmates he has outlived. Cat’s frazzled response the ghosts’ many questions suggests that memory often overwhelms his present existence—that he is living in the past. Cat’s dream also establishes a connection between nostalgia and water, with water being the subject and setting of Cat’s nostalgia, as well as a metaphor the dream uses to convey the heavy, overpowering quality of Cat’s feelings of longing and grief. Lastly, the appearance of Rosie Probert, Cat’s former lover, introduces an element of physical intimacy into the play.
First Voice directs the listener to listen to the sound of the town’s dressmaker and sweetshop-keeper, Miss Myfanwy Price, dream of her tall, handsome lover, Mr. Mog Edwards. Second Voice interjects, describing Edwards as “whacking thighed and piping hot,” and with “eyes like blowlamps” that take in Myfanwy’s body. In the dream, Edwards effusively declares his love for her and vows to whisk her away to his “Emporium on the hill” for a sensual evening together. Miss Price says, “Yes, Mog, yes, Mog, yes, yes, yes.”
Second Voice’s description of Mog Edwards as “whacking thighed and piping hot” suggests an explicitly sexual dynamic to Myfanwy and Mog’s dreams of each other. Second Voice draws attention to Edwards’s “eyes like blowlamps,” which illustrates the eagerness with which Mog takes in Myfanwy’s physical appearance. Between Mog and Myfanwy’s steamy dreams and Captain Cat’s dream of his former lover Rosie Probert, it’s clear that the play is frank and unbarred in its display of characters’ sexuality. Along these lines, Myfanwy’s exclamation of “Yes, Mog, yes, Mog, yes, yes, yes” signifies her affirmative response to Mog’s declaration of love. It also might imitate a cry of sexual ecstasy.
First Voice draws the listener’s attention up the street to the attic above the cobbler’s shop, where the cobbler, Jack Black, lies fast asleep. Second Voice describes Black’s dreams of brashly breaking up lovers’ rendezvous in the woods.
Second Voice’s comment about Jack Black’s dreams of breaking up lovers’ rendezvous in the woods establishes the woods that surround the town as a place where the usual social norms don’t apply— where townspeople are free to act on the physical impulses that society (here, represented by the violent, order-enforcing Jack Black) might otherwise condemn.
Next, Second Voice describes how Evans the Death, the town’s undertaker, laughs as he dreams about being a child and stealing a handful of his mother’s currants on snowy day.
Evans the Death’s dreams of childhood reflect his nostalgia for the past. His desire to be young again might also reflect a repressed death anxiety, which is rather ironic in light of the fact that one would expect an undertaker to have accepted (or at least grown numb to) the reality of mortality.
First Voice moves the scene next door, where Mister Waldo, a plump man who sleeps with bread pudding and a milk stout under his pillow, and the town’s “rabbitcatcher, barber, herbalist, catdoctor, [and] quack,” dreams about playing “this little piggy” with his mother. In the same dream, Mr. Waldo’s wife screams at him, anguishing over what their nosy neighbors will say about their marriage, and First Neighbour, Second Neighbour, Third Neighbour, and Fourth Neighbour begin to gossip about Mr. Waldo being a drunk and having an affair with Beattie Morris, who has apparently given birth to his child. The neighbors think Mr. Waldo is just like his father, who ended up in an asylum. Waldo’s wife’s voice returns, and she tearfully refers to herself as “Widower Waldo.”
Waldo’s dreams of childhood reflect his nostalgic longing for simpler times. The neighbors’ gossip about Mr. Waldo’s drinking and adultery suggest that his life has only gotten more complicated and unsavory as he grows older, which explains his desire to regress to a time when he had fewer problems. It’s not clear why Waldo’s wife calls herself “Widower Waldo” in the dream, but it might suggest that Waldo, like Evans the Death, fears mortality, or feels apprehensive about the passage of time, and the death and decay that unavoidably accompany it.
Waldo’s wife’s screeching is replaced by the screeching of his mother, who also anguishes over gossiping neighbors. Waldo regresses into his childhood self, and the neighbors complain that he is dirty and mischievous. One neighbor claims he stole some currants, while another mother demands to know what Waldo has done to Matti. Waldo orders Matti to give him a kiss, and Matti asks for a penny in return. A preacher asks if Waldo will take Matti Richards to be his “awful wedded wife,” and four other women chime in to ask the same question. Waldo screams.
That Waldo’s wife’s screeching replaces his mother’s suggests that while time might pass, the human experience remains basically the same, and history ultimately repeats itself. Here, Waldo is an unsatisfactory husband, just as his father was before him, and his wife yells at him, just as his mother did before her. Lastly, Walter’s wife’s and Walter’s mother’s anguish over their gossiping neighbors depicts the play’s setting as a gossipy small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business.
First Voice redirects the listener’s attention toward the clean and immaculately dressed Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, who is asleep in bed “under virtuous polar sheets” in her room at the Bay House, a boarding house. Her two husbands, Mr. Ogmore and Mr. Pritchard, are both dead. Mrs. Ogmore is pathologically tidy and dreams of instructing her deceased husbands to relay their daily routines to her. Ogmore and Pritchard run through their chores, such as taking “salts which are nature’s friend,” making herbal tea, and boiling drinking water.
Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s “virtuous polar sheets” are a visual representation of her obsession with tidiness. Metaphorically, they suggest a certain moral purity, as well. That Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard dreams of her dead husbands suggests that she, like so many of the other townspeople, is preoccupied with the past.
First Voice draws the listener’s attention toward Gossamer Beynon—the butcher’s daughter, and a schoolteacher—who sleeps “under a fluttering hummock of chicken’s feathers in a slaughterhouse that has chintz curtains and a three-pieced suite.” Gossamer dreams of a lover, who is described as “a small rough ready man with a bushy tail winking in a paper carrier.”
The animalistic traits of Gossamer’s lover, with his “bushy tail” and “rough ready” appearance illustrates the carnal, physical aspect of Gossamer’s desires. Like many other characters, she dreams specifically of physical intimacy.
Organ Morgan, the town organist, cries for help in his sleep. He dreams of the “music” of Coronation Street: the “spouses […] honking like geese and the babies singing opera.” Across town, the cocklers, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd, are sound asleep, “like two old kippers in a box.”
Organ Morgan’s dreams of “spouses […] honking like geese” emphasizes how involved in everyone else’s business the townspeople are: the town is small, so everyone hears everything else that goes on, such as the “honking” squabbles of bickering spouses. The description of the Floyds asleep “like two old kippers in a box” is an example of the play’s abundant use of water imagery. Here, the two old cocklers are depicted as kippers, small canned fish that are similar to sardines.
In Salt Lake Farm, Utah Watkins counts sheep that look like his wife. Elsewhere, Ocky Milkman dreams of crying as he empties his milk churns into the Dewi River. Next door, Cherry Owen’s empty mug turns into a fish, which he drinks. Elsewhere, P.C. Attila Rees drags himself out of bed and starts to pee into his helmet before deciding he’ll regret it in the morning and returning to bed.
Watkins’s first name (Utah) and the name of his farm, Salt Lake Farm, evoke more water imagery: Salt Lake refers to the Great Salt Lake, which is located in northern Utah, near Salt Lake City, which Dylan Thomas visited in 1952 while on one of his U.S. reading tours. That Cherry Owen’s empty mug turns into a fish comically suggests a nostalgia or longing for the drinks he’s already drunk.
Willy Nilly, the postman, dreams of delivering the mail, which causes him to knock on his wife’s back in his sleep. Willy Nilly’s knocking leads Mrs. Willy Nilly to dream of being spanked by her teacher for being late to school, which is the dream she’s had every night since marrying Willy Nilly. Sinbad Sailors, who runs the taproom, “hugs his damp pillow,” which he calls Gossamer Beynon. Lily Smalls dreams of being caught by a mogul in the washroom.
Mrs. Willy Nilly’s dream might reflect her inner desires for the sexual intimacy that aren’t being fulfilled in her marriage. Sinbad Sailors’s and Lily Smalls’s dreams also reflect repressed sexual desires: Sinbad Sailors lusts after “his damp pillow” in place of Gossamer, whom he truly loves. Lily Smalls’s dreams of engaging in an illicit affair in the wash-room suggests a desire for a more titillating life, since the exciting act of being ravished by a mogul (an important and powerful person, especially within a particular industry) stands in stark contrast to the drab, mundane setting (a wash-room) in which it takes place.
Mae, Mrs. Rose Cottage’s oldest child, “peals off her pink-and-white skin” and stands waiting “in a furnace in a tower in a cave in a waterfall in a wood,” for “Mister Right” to arrive. She asks him to call her “Dolores, like they do in the stories.”
Mae Rose’s dream is also richly sensual: she undresses herself completely, taking off “her pink-and-white-skin” in addition to her clothes. The removal of her skin suggests that Mae Rose desires to be seen physically and metaphorically: she wants someone to observe and desire her naked body, and she also wants to “peal off” the exterior layers of manner, social niceties, and artifice and let the world see her in a natural, unfiltered state. Mae Rose’s desire for a romance like something out of “the stories” underscores the power storytelling has to shape people’s desires. Lastly, Mae Rose’s desire to be called “Dolores,” and the violent imagery of her removing her skin, might be an allusion to the Algernon Charles Swinburne poem “Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs),” a sensual, provocative poem that uses Christian imagery to describe the beauty, cruelty, and sensuality of a pagan mother goddess.
Bessie Bighead, a poor, perpetually single woman who works at Salt Lake Farm, picks daisies to place on the grave of Gomer Owen, who kissed her just once, as they were standing next to the pigsty. In Mrs. Butcher Beynon’s dream, Mr. Beynon is arrested for selling illicit meats, such as “dogs’ eyes” and “manchop.” In his own dream, Butcher Beynon shoots wild giblets.
Bessie Bighead longs nostalgically for the deceased Gomer Owen, whom she associates with love and intimacy, even though the one kiss they shared occurred in such an undesirable place as a pigsty. Mrs. Beynon’s dream seems to reflect a broader paranoia of community gossip: she’s worried community gossip about the apparently disreputable sources of her husband’s meats will lead to his arrest.
First Voice redirects the listener’s attention to the owls hunting over the cemetery. In the chapel on Coronation Street, Reverend Eli Jenkins dreams of Eisteddfodau. Second Voice elaborates, explaining how the Reverend crafts rhymes in his sleep.
Eisteddfod is an annual Welsh community festival that celebrates Welsh arts and culture, as well as the bardic tradition. The first recorded Eisteddfod took place 1176 and was as a competition among bards and minstrels. That the Reverend dreams of Eisteddfodau and crafts rhythms in his sleep suggests that he values storytelling, the arts, and a sense of community. It also places the play’s setting in a broader historical context, establishing that it and its people value and carry on centuries’ old Welsh traditions.
Elsewhere, Mr. Pugh, the schoolmaster, dreams of murder. Elsewhere still, Mrs. Organ Morgan holds her hands over her ears and tries to sleep as her husband snores loudly beside her.
Mrs. Organ Morgan’s dreams of silence contrast sharply with her husband’s dreams of music. The asymmetrical, opposing desires displayed in their dreams is a metaphor for their failure to connect as a couple, and the complicated nature of intimacy more broadly.
Mary Ann Sailors dreams herself away from her clean kitchen, which has “Sunday-school pictures” hanging from its walls, and into the Garden of Eden, which she envisions as a “kitchen garden” full of vegetables. She sits in the garden and shells peas.
Mary Ann Sailors’s dreams of the Garden of Eden suggest a longing for purity and redemption: she’s dreaming of a time before humanity’s biblical descent into sin and violence. The fact that Mary Ann’s Eden is a mundane “kitchen garden,” though, reveals her belief that retuning to this earlier state of purity that humanity had before its banishment from the Garden of Eden is an achievable task rather than a lofty, wishful goal. In short, Mary Ann’s dream suggests her faith in humanity’s resilience and innate goodness.
Meanwhile, in Donkey Street, Dai Bread dreams of harems, Polly Garter dreams of babies, Nogood Boyo dreams of nothing, and Lord Cut-Glass dreams of a ticking clock.
Dai Bread’s dreams of harems and Polly Garter’s dreams of babies are additional examples of the play’s open, honest attitude toward sexuality and physical intimacy. Nogood Boyo’s dream of nothing suggests that he’s an uncomplicated person: he wants for nothing because his mundane life in a quaint fishing village gives him all he really needs. Lord Cut-Glass’s dreams of a ticking clock suggests a heightened awareness of humanity’s inability to halt the passage of time. Perhaps Lord Cut-Glass, like Captain Cat and many of the play’s other characters, longs for the past and is apprehensive about his inability to exercise control over a world that is perpetually moving forward.
First Voice describes the sun slowly rising in the sky as “time passes.” They urge the listener to stand atop Llareggub Hill, on which sits a circle of stones made by “Mrs. Beynon’s Billy,” rather than by “druids,” and listen to the sounds of the waking town below.
First Voice explicitly emphasizes the steady, forward motion of time when he urges the listener to observe how “time passes” as night gives way to morning.
The Voice of a Guide-Book describes the town of Llareggub, which is home to less than 500 people, and which contains only three, narrow streets and some farmland. The Guide-Book describes Llareggub as “decaying,” and the townspeople as having “a salty individuality of their own.” On Coronation Street, the town’s main road, there are “humble” houses painted garish colors, as well as a few crumbling 18th-century houses. There’s not any interesting architecture, nature, or general excitement in Llareggub to attract outsiders, but a “contemplative” person might find a “picturesque sense of the past” in the town’s eccentric people and odd traditions.
Though “Llareggub” looks like a Welsh term, it’s not a real word and, when spelled backward, reads “bugger all,” which is a British slang term that means “nothing.” This supports the Guide-Book’s claims about Llareggub being a rather dull, unremarkable place. Still, the Guide-Book’s observation that a “contemplative” person might see a “picturesque sense of the past” in Llareggub’s eccentric citizens recasts Llareggub’s simplicity and dullness in a positive light, suggesting that the simpler way of life Llareggub offers is actually a positive way to exist.
A cock crows, the sky grows lighter, and First Voice directs the listener’s attention to Captain Cat, who rings the townhall bell to awaken the sleeping citizens, which he does every day. Second Voice shifts the focus to Reverend Eli Jenkins, who dresses in his preacher’s robe and walks downstairs, opening the front door to greet the new day. The Reverend looks upon “the eternal hill” before him and exclaims “Dear Gwalia!” before expressing gratitude for his town. Though the Reverend knows that there are places worthier and more beautiful than Llareggub, he would stay in the town forever if he could. The Reverend closes his door, ending what Second Voice calls the “morning service.”
The Reverend’s description of Llareggub Hill as “eternal” situates the hill—and the adjacent town of Llareggub—within the larger context of the area’s natural and cultural history, which suggests that both the hill and its neighboring town are resilient against the forces of change and deterioration that wear down so many other places. The Reverend’s use of the world “Gwalia,” which is an archaic Welsh term for Wales often used in poetic settings, expands on this point while also reinforcing the Reverend’s important relationship to poetry, the arts, and Welsh culture and history. The Reverend’s comments here build upon the Guide-Book’s earlier observation about Llareggub possessing certain charms one might associate with the past. In calling Llareggub Hill “eternal” and expressing his admiration for the town, Jenkins suggests that there is strength and worth inherent in Llareggub and its ability to maintain its traditions and identity in the face of a changing, increasingly modernized world. That Jenkins delivers his praise in such a poetic, performative fashion conveys the power of storytelling to transform an ordinary town like Llareggub into a place that is interesting and worthy of praise.
Lily Smalls, “Mrs. Beynon’s treasure,” wakes up from her dreams of fooling around with “royalty” in Milk Wood and goes downstairs to Mrs. Beynon’s kitchen to boil water on the stove. She looks at her reflection in Mr. Beynon’s shaving glass and bemoans her appearance. She talks to her reflection, inaudibly whispering the name of the person she loves into her face in the glass. From upstairs, the voice of Mrs. Beynon demanding her morning tea interrupts Lily’s daydreaming.
In referring to Lily as “Mrs. Beynon’s treasure,” the play reduces the young girl to an object devoid of identity and desire. Lily Smalls’s dreams of being romanced by “royalty” are the opposite of the mundane, predictable life she lives as Mrs. Beynon’s maid. Her fantastical dreams reflect an inner dissatisfaction with her boring life and serve as a coping mechanism she uses to bring more excitement to an otherwise uneventful existence: Lily tells herself stories to entertain herself and pass the long, mundane days she spends doing housework for Mrs. Beynon. That Lily’s fantasies take place in Milk Wood further establishes nature as a free, magical place that is unbeholden to the social norms that govern life in town.
In the School House across the street, Mr. Pugh brings Mrs. Pugh her morning tea and imagines slipping poison into the cup. He opens the bedroom door and hands the tea to his wife, who complains about the taste before she’s taken one sip. Mrs. Pugh asks if the Reverend has recited his poetry yet, and when Mr. Pugh confirms that he has, she rises from bed.
The Pughs’ disastrous and hateful marriage is intentionally exaggerated for comic effect. At the same time, however, their strained relationship expresses the ordinary struggle of married couples to connect, particularly after they’ve grown tired and impatient with each other over the years.
Second Voice draws the listener’s attention to Lily Smalls as she scrubs the front steps of the Beynons’ house. Mrs. Pugh looks on and scoffs at Lily, whose skirt is tucked into her undergarments. Mrs. Pugh watches P.C. Attila Rees angrily trudge out of Handcuff House and predicts that he’s on his way to arrest Polly Garter “for having babies.” Mary Ann Sailors opens her bedroom window and announces to the world her exact age: “eighty-five years three months and a day!” Meanwhile, Organ Morgan sits beside his bedroom window playing music.
Mrs. Pugh observes the goings on about the town, pettily mocking Lily Smalls for accidentally tucking her skirt into her underwear for the entire town to see. Lily Smalls’s visible undergarments may also be seen as a metaphor for the way living in such a small, close-knit town inherently puts one’s secrets—one’s dirty linens, so to speak—on display for all to see. Mrs. Pugh’s scornful comment about Polly Garter needing to be arrested “for having babies” suggests that while the pay’s narrators might maintain a neutral position on their subjects, the townspeople themselves have strong opinions about their neighbors.
Dai Bread hurriedly makes his way down Donkey Street toward the bakery, muttering to himself about his useless wives, who failed to make him breakfast that morning. Mrs. Dai Bread One, who is rather old and frumpy, tries to “stir up” her neighbor Mrs. Sarah by asking for a loaf of bread and inquiring about her boils. In contrast, Mrs. Dai Bread Two is “gypsied to kill,” dressed in broken high heels and a “silky scarlet petticoat” that displays her “dirty pretty knees” and body. She has “black slinky hair,” wears perfume, and talks about using tea leaves to predict the future as she lights her pipe.
Having two wives might satisfy Dai Bread’s sensual desires, but he still finds petty reasons to be irritated at them. His anger is played for comic effect, since he’s a baker and presumably should be able to fix himself breakfast. Mrs. Dai Bread Two is a hyper-sexualized caricature of a sultry, exotic “gypsy” woman. The play depicts her as a “dirty,” exotic temptress who smokes and bares her knees. In short, she’s the opposite of the ordinary, homely Mrs. Dai Bread One.
Lord Cut-Glass wears mismatched, secondhand clothing to go door to door emptying slops. Meanwhile, Nogood Boyo gets into trouble at the wash-house, and Miss Myfanwy Price, dressed in a prim housecoat, looks forward to a scrumptious homemade breakfast.
Not much is known about Lord Cut-Glass at this point in the play, but his disheveled appearance and the menial labor tasks he performs suggests that he’s down on his luck. Perhaps, like many other townspeople, Lord Cut-Glass’s best days are behind him. The prim appearance Miss Myfanwy assumes in the light of day contrasts starkly with the sensual being she became in her dreams, which suggests that rigid social norms inhibit people from acting on the inner animalistic desires that surface in their dreams.
Polly Garter stands under the clothesline and feeds her baby. She complains about nothing growing in her garden besides “washing” and “babies.” She thinks about the babies’ fathers, who live far away, and imagines her baby chastising her for living a dishonorable life before ultimately deciding that she is a good enough mother.
Polly imagines her baby as a stand-in for the townspeople who judge her for having children out of wedlock, and for engaging in numerous sexual affairs. When Polly imagines that her baby ultimately decides she is good enough just the way she is, it implies that Polly doesn’t take townspeople’s gossip to heart, nor does she feel that her promiscuous behavior makes her unworthy of love and compassion.
First Voice redirects the listener’s attention to Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, who dines on tea and “starchless bread.” Elsewhere, Mr. Waldo eats kippers, and Marry Ann Sailors praises God. Mr. Pugh continues to imagine ways to kill Mrs. Pugh, who continues to nag him. Willy Nilly finishes his tea as Mrs. Willy Nilly tends to the boiling water on the stove, which she’ll use to steam open the townspeople’s mail. Reverend Eli Jenkins continues to compose poetry, and Lord Cut-Glass tends to the clocks. Captain Cat sits in the galley of his schooner and eats fried fish.
Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard is obsessed with cleanliness and physical health: she only allows herself to consume clean and comically tasteless foods, such as “starchless bread.” Whereas many townspeople seem preoccupied with the past, Mrs. Ogmore seems more anxious about the future and her longevity. The Willy Nillys’ shameless invasion of the townspeople’s’ privacy by steaming open their mail underscores the role gossip and nosiness plays in bringing together the people of Llareggub to take part in a shared experience of community life.
Mr. Cherry Owen and Mrs. Cherry Owen sit in their small, one-room home and eat last night’s meal of boiled onions for breakfast. They laugh together as Mrs. Cherry Owen recounts to her husband the drunken antics he got into the night before, since he has no memory of them. She points to a smudge on the wall, which she explains is from her husband throwing the sago. He also sang “Bread of Heaven,” danced around, and cried until Mrs. Cherry Owen put him to bed.
The Owens’ harmonious relationship is rather counterintuitive—one would expect Cherry Owen’s alcoholism would destroy the possibility of a happy marriage—and played for comedic effect. Their unlikely marital bliss shows how there is value in striving for connection, even if it’s imperfect or comes from unexpected sources. “Sago” refers to a starchy substance similar to tapioca.
First Voice describes the smell of fried liver emanating from the Beynons’ house. Mrs. Beynon gives the cat pieces of liver, which Mr. Beynon claims belonged to the cat’s brother. Mrs. Beynon shrieks, and Beynon continues to tease her about the questionable sources of all the meats they eat, though Lily Smalls insists that he’s lying.
In yet another instance of odd marital dynamics, there are the Beynons, whose marriage seems to be based on a bizarre balancing act in which Mr. Beynon mercilessly teases his wife about the source of his meats, and Mrs. Beynon believes (or at least, pretends to believe) him. Their relationship is similar to the Pughs, in that it lacks intimacy and honesty and is highly, humorously contrived.
First Voice redirects the scene up the street. Sinbad Sailors, who is Mary Ann Sailors’s grandson, opens his bar, Sailors Arms, where “it is always opening time.” First Voice describes the sounds of babies crying and children being sent to school. Second Voice comments on the cranky fishermen tending to their nets. One of these fishermen, Nogood Boyo takes his dinghy, the Zanzibar, out on the bay. He looks up at the sky and wonders “who’s up there,” though he doesn’t much care about the answer. Nogood Boyo looks at Llareggub Hill, which is covered in trees, white houses, and farmland.
Llareggub might be a charmingly nostalgic old town, but it’s not devoid of its fair share of troubles: the fact that its local pub, Sailors Arms, has the clientele to support its being open at nearly all hours of the day is proof of these troubles: there’s always someone in town who needs to drown their sorrows in pints of beer. Nogood Boyo’s indifference about “who’s up there” in the sky—about an afterlife or the existence of a higher being—is followed by his intentional gaze toward Llareggub Hill. It’s as though he chooses Llareggub Hill over God, which suggests a certain faith in the shared experience of life in Llareggub over faith in God. In other words, Nogood Boyo might not believe in God, but he believes in his town. Of course, the other side of the coin is that Nogood Boyo is simply a lazy, indifferent young man who can’t be bothered to muse philosophically.
In town, Mr. Mog Edwards stands outside Manchester House and thinks about his love for Miss Myfanwy Price. Meanwhile, the town teems with the sounds of daily business: of syrup being sold, farmers driving animals to market. Captain Cat sits at his window and listens to the sounds of children running to school; he can recognize them by the sound their feet make against the cobblestone street. He hears the sound of Willy Nilly knocking on the door of the Bay View and thinks that the mailman should watch his step, since every step at Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s boarding house is slippery from her constant cleaning.
Captain Cat becomes something of a third narrator, making observations similar to First Voice’s and Second Voice’s, which allow the audience to gain more insight into daily life in Llareggub. The major presence of these three narrators—Captain Cat, First Voice, and Second Voice—reaffirms the active role that storytelling plays in bringing to life the town of Llareggub for the audience, which must rely on their voices alone to orient itself within the town, since the radio drama genre doesn’t allow for extraneous visual elements that could otherwise simply show the reader the town directly.
Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard opens the door of the Bay View and greets Willy Nilly, who hands her a letter, which he explains is from a man in Builth Wells who wants to stay at the Bay View for two weeks while he studies birds. Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard thinks about all the feathers the letter-writer would drag inside the boarding house and immediately declines his request. She slams the door in Willy Nilly’s face.
It's ridiculous for the postman to tell the people on his route about the contents of their mail before they open it for themselves. Willy Nilly’s extreme nosiness is played for comedic effect and parodies the cliched idea that everyone who lives in a small town knows everyone else’s business. Adding to this comedic situation is the absurd premise that not one of the townspeople appear annoyed that their mailman is opening, reading, and sharing the contents of their mail with the entire town. In fact, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard simply accepts it as a part of daily life, which suggests that she and the other townspeople find comfort in living this shared, non-secretive life. One final example of comedic absurdity in this scene is the idea that Mrs. Ogmore Pritchard’s obsessive commitment to neatness prevents her from allowing guests to stay in her boarding house.
Captain Cat hears Willy Nilly arrive at the School House, where he relays to Mrs. Pugh all the gossip he’s gleaned from that day’s letters. Willy Nilly gives Mrs. Pugh a package for Mr. Pugh, informing her that it contains a book entitled Lives of the Great Poisoners. Willy Nilly continues on to Manchester House, where he relays the day’s news to Mr. Mog Edwards, who eagerly asks the mailman if he’s been sent “a letter from her.” Willy Nilly describes the contents of Miss Price’s love letter before handing Edwards the envelope to read himself.
Mr. Pugh’s package might imply that his dreams and daydreams of poisoning his wife are more than dreams—perhaps he has plans to go through with nefarious fantasy. That Mrs. Pugh’s postman is the person to inform her of Mr. Pugh’s nefarious scheme comically shows how mysterious the miserable husband and wife are to each other: their postman knows more about them than they do about each other. The love letter Willy Nilly delivers to Mog sheds some light on the nature of Mog and Myfanwy’s relationship, revealing that their romance isn’t just a fantasy they live out in their dreams: they’re actually engaged in a romance, though whether or not the romance extends beyond mere letter writing remains to be seen.
After leaving Manchester House, Willy Nilly intercepts Mr. Waldo, who is on his way to the Sailors Arms. Willy Nilly hands Mr. Waldo an envelope containing “another paternity summons,” which prompts Mr. Waldo to order a pint the second he arrives at the Sailors Arms.
It was already rather clear that Mr. Waldo is Llareggub’s resident scoundrel, and Willy Nilly’s delivery of “another paternity summons” only reinforces this. Willy Nilly specifies that he has “another” summons for Waldo, which humorously implies that this isn’t the first summons he’s delivered to Waldo. Given the very public status of everyone’s mail, (courtesy of Willy Nilly) it’s guaranteed that Mr. Waldo’s adultery and resultant, illegitimate children are common knowledge across town.
Captain Cat continues to listen to the townspeople. He overhears Mrs. Floyd and Nogood Boyo talking about fish. He discerns the sound of the overweight Mrs. Dai Bread One making her way down the street, and the clicking of high heels as Mae, Rose Cottage’s oldest child, passes by his window. Women stand around the town pump and trade gossip about the usual subjects, such as who’s expecting a baby, who’s been beaten, and the cost of soap. Polly Garter is visibly pregnant, and they scoff that “there should be a law” against such a thing.
The town pump is a central meeting place where the town’s women can gather to spread gossip. The subjects the women broach—from the weighty subject of domestic abuse to trivial updates about the current cost of soap—vary hyperbolically in their degree of seriousness, which implies that no topic is off-limits to this network of gossiping women.
Captain Cat hears organ music in the distance. He notes the early start to Organ Morgan’s practice session and considers it to be a sign that Spring is in the air. When he hears the clamber of milk-cans approaching, Captain Cat laughs to himself about how watered down Ocky Milkman’s milk is.
Cat implies that Spring itself has reinvigorated Organ Morgan’s desire to make music, which illustrates how discerning and appreciative Llareggub’s citizens are of ordinary bouts of good fortune: for Organ Morgan, the warmth of the air on the first proper Spring day is enough to give him a renewed outlook on life and reinvigorate his idea to create and perform music. Cat’s observation seems to point to the way Llareggub’s simplicity allows its citizens to feel more grateful and fulfilled in their lives.
When the gossiping women around the pump fall silent, Captain Cat knows that Polly Garter is near, and he wonders which of the women’s husbands had sex with Polly in Milk Wood and fathered the child that grows in her belly.
Unlike the women, who gossip judgmentally about Polly, Captain Cat assumes a more objective opinion of the young, single mother. He also comes to Polly’s defense in this scene when he insinuates that the women are mostly gossiping about Polly not out of moral outrage, but out of spite, since it’s almost certain that one of their cheating husbands fathered her latest child-in-progress.
Captain Cat hears a cock crow, which means that the morning is already half over. The organ music stops, and First Voice describes more of the town’s sounds: horses walking down the town’s cobblestone streets, pigs grunting, and the smell of baking bread. Women stroll into Mrs. Organ Morgan’s general store, which sells all kinds of goods, from whistles to rat traps. Three women (First Woman, Second Woman, and Third Woman) talk about Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s new man, who apparently studies birds through a telescope. They wryly observe that Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s first husband didn’t need a telescope, since he simply watched them “undressing through the key-hole.”
That Captain Cat uses the cock’s crow to tell time shows how, even though the play established a clear divide between nature and society, the natural world is still very much imbedded in the experience of daily life in Llareggub, which nostalgically harkens back to an earlier, pre-industrial era, perhaps. The women’s gossip about Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s new boarder shows that news of the letter Willy Nilly delivered to her earlier that day has already spread across town. The women’s gossip about the way Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s first husband would watch guests “undressing through the key-hole” reinforces a gendered stereotype about men’s natural state of hypersexuality. The women aren’t poking fun of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s poor taste in men so much as they are bonding over their shared experiences with misbehaving husbands. It’s a way for all of them to connect and sympathize over a shared cause of emotional anguish.
The women continue to gossip, poking fun at Mrs. Beynon for believing all Mr. Beynon’s talk of questionable meats. Fourth Woman calls the people who live in Llareggub “a nasty lot,” and First Woman gestures toward “lazy” Nogood Boyo as an example. The women talk about Ocky Milkman’s wife, who never ventures outside the house, and Dai Bread, who has two wives. Fourth Woman says that all men are “brutes,” citing as an additional example Organ Morgan, whose practicing keeps his wife up all night.
Airing their grievances about the various men in their lives and the lives of other townswomen allows the women to take comfort in their shared experiences of having to deal with disappointing men, all of whom are supposedly “brutes.”
First Voice redirects the listener’s attention to the sun beating down on Llareggub and the adjacent sea. Second Voice interjects to describe Evans the Death “press[ing] hard with black gloves on the coffin of his breast in case his heart jumps out.”
First Voice’s instruction for the audience to focus on the sea reinforces the unavoidable presence of water in Llareggub—and, by extension, the nostalgia that water symbolizes. Evans the Death’s figurative attempt to keep his heart from leaping out of his chest implies a fear of mortality: he sees life as fleeting, unpredictable, and perpetually in danger of escaping without a moment’s notice. Death anxiety is a humorous trait for an undertaker to possess, since one would expect him to be desensitized to matters of life and death.
Next, Second Voice notes how the Spring day has incited feelings of anger in Jack Black, who takes out his frustrations on a shoe he’s cobbling for Mrs. Dai Bread Two. Jack Black grumbles to himself that nobody should be wearing such a shoe, no matter how nice their legs are. Second Voice observes how Spring has an opposite effect on Captain Cat, who is overcome with a sense of nostalgia. Meanwhile, Mary Ann Sailors looks out the window at Llareggub Hill and thinks it must be “the Chosen Land.”
The play has already established that Jack Black loathes the promiscuity of Llareggub’s young lovers, so one can logically speculate that his anger at the Spring day is motivated by Spring’s associations with fertility, growth, and rebirth. Jack Black’s decision to take out his anger on the shoe he’s cobbling for Mrs. Dai Bread Two—an unladylike high heel that symbolizes and contributes to her hypersexual—supports this point. Spring’s associations with renewal and rebirth have a quite different effect on Captain Cat, for whom the presence of life and newness in the air is a reminder of all those who are no longer around to enjoy the fresh air with him. Mary Ann Sailors’s observation that Llareggub Hill is “the Chosen Land” also connects to Spring’s associations with rebirth and renewal, since the Chosen Land, or “Promised Land,” in the biblical tradition, refers to the land God promised Abraham and his descendants, and, more broadly, to the idea that God’s chosen people will be granted salvation. In describing Llareggub Hill as “the Chosen Land,” Sailors implies that Llareggub’s people are God’s chosen people and, subsequently, worthy of salvation.
First Voice redirects the listener’s attention to Willy Nilly, who has returned home to steam open more mail with his wife. They open a letter from Mr. Mog Edwards to Miss Myfanwy Price, which opens with what reads as an advertisement for his Tailor’s shop before moving into a declaration of his love for her. Edwards describes a dream in which Miss Price sits “dripping wet” in his lap, which inspires Reverend Jenkins to call her a “mermaid.” Edwards thinks that Jenkins “a proper Christian,” unlike Cherry Owen, who tells Edwards he should have tossed the mermaid-Myfanwy back into the sea. Edwards closes his letter by voicing his anxieties about his failing business. The letter ends with the stamped message “Shop at Mog’s.”
Willy Nilly and his wife bond over their snooping, which is yet another example of an imperfect (and immoral) attempt at intimacy that is nonetheless valuable in its ability to form a connection between two people. The steamy dream that Mog recounts in his letter to Myfanwy suggests that sexuality is an important part of their romance, though such a form of intimacy isn’t accepted by all the townspeople: Owen’s remark that Mog should’ve tossed Myfanwy back into the sea metaphorically implies that Owen sees this “dripping wet,” sexual version of Myfanwy as debauched by virtue of her sexuality. Interestingly, in Mog’s dream, it’s Reverend Eli Jenkins (the town’s only religious authority figure) who sees the sexualized Myfanwy as a beautiful, worthy “mermaid” and Owen (the town mischief-maker and drunk) who rejects Myfanwy’s worth. Jenkins’s acceptance reflects his broader view of the townspeople, which is that they are worthy of being judged by their goodness over their vices or mistakes. Lastly, that Mog’s love letter is punctuated by his tedious anxieties about his personal financial woes suggests a certain reluctance on Mog’s part to be fully honest and intimate with Myfanwy. The fact that he interrupts his own declarations of love to go off on tangents about fabrics and finances suggests that the ordinary stresses of life can become obstacles that stand in the way of genuine human connection.
Willy Nilly leaves his home and heads to the House of Commons, which is located near the harbor. There, he sees herring gulls in the sky and fishermen at work. The fishermen look in the water and see all the goods their catch will allow them to buy, however, they quickly become discouraged and decide it’s time to quit for the day and head to the Sailors Arms.
There’s a discrepancy between what the fishermen want their lives to become—the type of living they wish to earn, and the improved life they will create with their earnings—and the reality of their poor day’s catch. That the fishermen realize this discrepancy as they look in the sea and see their unrealized dreams of wealth in the form of watery images of the goods the poor day’s catch doesn’t allow them to afford reinforces water’s function as a symbol of dreams and longing.
A bell rings, and children pour out of the School House, singing as they run. Captain Cat listens to the children and sings a song about “Johnnie Crack and Flossie Snail,” who “kept their baby in a milking pail.” After a long pause, First Voice remarks on the “music of the spheres” that echoes over Milk Wood, on which he bestows the title “The Rustle of Spring.” Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard blows her nose into a handkerchief and curses the sun, but she can do little to cleanse the intense feeling of Spring from the air. Meanwhile, Mrs. Dai Bread One and Mrs. Dai Bread Two sit outside their house. Mrs. Dai Bread Two gazes into her crystal ball and antagonizes Mrs. Dai Bread One by claiming to see Dai Bread in bed with two women.
First Voice’s comment about Llareggub’s “music of the spheres” is a reference to the metaphysical philosophical principle of musica universalis, which holds that the balanced, proportional movement of celestial bodies (planets and stars) are a form of music. The Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler would later suggest that this music could be felt in the soul of all humans. First Voice’s decision to refer to the townspeople’s music as “music of the spheres,” therefore, suggests that the creative experience of music-making not only connects the townspeople with one another, but with the collective existence of humanity, as well. Mrs. Dai Bread’s vision is another instance of the play’s frank treatment of sexuality. It’s not clear whether she actually sees her husband in bed with two unknow women, or if she’s only pretending she has to antagonize Mrs. Dai Bread One.
Reverend Eli Jenkins walks outside the chapel and listens to Polly Garter sing as she scrubs the floors of the Welfare Hall for the Mothers’ Union Dance that will take place that evening. Polly sings about her past lovers, whom she calls Tom, Dick, and Harry, and whom were all big and handsome men. Her song turns melancholy as she mourns the death of Willy Wee, the only man she ever loved. Though Polly has no shortage of lovers, whenever she’s with a new man, she can’t stop thinking about Willy Wee.
“Tom, Dick, and Harry” is an expression that refers to ordinary people. When Polly calls her past lovers Tom, Dick, and Harry, she means that these lovers were unremarkable and meaningless in comparison to Willy Wee, whom she genuinely loved. Polly’s grief over Willy Wee—despite no shortage of lovers in the years that followed his death—shows how rare it is to form genuine intimate connections with others. This moment humanizes Polly, as well, revealing that the promiscuous behavior for which she many townspeople judge her is actually a coping mechanism she employs to work through unresolved grief. This moment is an apt example of the play’s more nuanced, sympathetic depiction of human sexuality, and women’s sexuality, in particular.
Reverend Eli Jenkins praises God for Polly’s heartfelt song and continues on his way to care for the sick with his poems. He passes by Mr. Waldo, who is on his way to Sailors Arms. Mr. Waldo arrives at the pub, which is full of dejected fishermen. Sinbad Sailors greets Mr. Waldo and confesses his love for Gossamer Beynon, whom he calls “a lady all over.” Sinbad wishes he could marry Gossamer, but his disapproving grandmother, Mary Ann Sailors, prevents him from doing so. Mr. Waldo can only think lustfully of women and disagrees that Gossamer—or any woman—is “a lady all over.”
Just as the Reverend saw the beauty in the sexual Myfanwy of Mog Edwards’s dream, he sees the beauty and virtue in Polly’s music, despite the fact that she’s singing about earthly pains and pleasures, which are subjects of which one might expect a Reverend to disapprove. Jenkins doesn’t judge Polly because he sees music and creativity as evidence of humanity’s innate goodness: in his eyes, Polly’s singing is enough to redeem her. Once more, the play juxtaposes Jenkins’s nuanced, sympathetic stance on sexuality to the hypocritical and judgmental stance of a morally dubious townsperson. Here, Waldo—a well-established drunk and mischief-maker—righteously scoffs that no woman is “a lady all over,” which implies that all women are promiscuous and debased to some degree. Waldo’s view is unfairly critical of women’s sexuality, particularly in light of the fact that Waldo is himself a serial adulterer.
Captain Cat sits by his window and listens to the schoolchildren play. The girls tease the boys, ordering them to kiss Gwennie “where she says,” or be forced to give her a penny. Gwennie lists different places to kiss her, such as Goosegog Lane, Llareggub Hill, and Milk Wood. Two boys give in to Gwennie’s demands, but when she asks Dicky to kiss her in Milk Wood, he tells her he can’t, since his mother forbade it. When Dicky doesn’t have a penny to give Gwennie instead of a kiss, the girls threaten to throw him in the river.
Llareggub’s youngest citizens, too, desire intimacy—even if in their embarrassment they treat the act of striving for connection like a schoolyard game. Gwennie’s order for the boys to kiss her “where she says” seems to be intentionally vague. When Gwennie says “where,” she is referring to a geographic location, but “where” could also refer to a location on her body, which is suggestive of a premature curiosity with physical intimacy, even more so than the simple request of a kiss.The play’s depiction of children’s early experimentations with sexuality is further evidence of its frank, open attitude toward sex. That Gwennie demands that the boys kiss her in different natural settings—in Milk Wood and on Llareggub Hill, for example—reinforces nature as a symbol of freedom from social norms and cultural constraints.
First Voice describes the way the shrieking children form a mob around Dicky, who eventually breaks away and runs downhill, blushing, crying, and clutching at his pants, which have had the buttons ripped off them. Dicky cries for his mother, whom the children insinuate is a loose woman. But this “means nothing at all” to Dicky, who loves his mother, even though she sleeps in a “fat birth-smelling bed” and has “cowbreath.” After the children are finished tormenting Dicky, they run to Myfanwy Price’s shop to exchange their new, “sticky” pennies for sweets.
The play generally assumes a positive stance about humanity’s innate goodness, but this moment subtly complicates this when it shows how even children are capable of senseless cruelty. This senselessness is underscored by the ease with which the children transition from cruelty to running to the sweetshop to buy candies with their “sticky,” dishonorable money, as though their ruthless teasing of Dicky were nothing at all. First Voice’s observation that the children’s teasing “means nothing at all” to Dicky, who loves his mother ins spite of her “fat birth-smelling bed” and “cowbreath” mirrors Polly Garter’s imagined conversation with her baby in the beginning of the play, in which the baby contends that despite Polly’s flaws, she’s good enough as she is. Both scenes point to the broader idea that people are innately good and ought to be judged on their goodness rather than their flaws or mistakes.
Second Voice shifts focus toward Gossamer Beynon leaving the school in her high heels. As she walks down the street, people, including Sinbad Sailors, undress her with their eyes. Gossamer sees Sinbad as she passes Sailors Arms and mutters to herself about being attracted to a “common” man, though this isn’t a problem for her, so long as he’s sexually appealing. Sinbad watches Gossamer walk, drinks, and bemoans her pride. He describes Gossamer as “the butcher’s unmalting icemaiden daughter” who will be forever oblivious to his interest in her. Gossamer senses Sailors’s thoughts and “turns in a terror of delight away from” him before going to the kitchen for a meal of kidney and chips.
Gossamer and Sinbad could have a relationship, but a romance likely won’t develop between them since they’re mutually unwilling to let the other know their true feelings. This shows how heavily misunderstanding and a socially constructed fear of shame or rejection stands in the way of humanity’s natural urge to connect with others: Sinbad withholds his feelings because of his grandmother’s disapproval, and Gossamer keeps her feelings to herself, too torn between “terror” and “delight” at the uncertain, unpredictable nature of intimacy to act on her desires. As a result of their combined inaction, Sinbad sees Gossamer as “the butcher’s unmalting icemaiden daughter,” who is too educated to be interested in him. Gossamer and Sinbad’s story of unrequited love is particularly tragic, though: it’s presented as a quite typical example of social anxiety and misunderstanding preventing people from seizing opportunities and connecting with others.
In the School House, the Pughs dine in silence. Mr. Pugh reads his book about famous poisoners and takes notes, careful to conceal the book’s cover from his wife. Mrs. Pugh calls her husband a “pig” for being rude and reading at the table, prompting Pugh to imagine himself concocting a potion of toxic herbs in a laboratory. When Mrs. Pugh asks what he’s reading, he claims the book’s title is Lives of the Great Saints. Mrs. Pugh smirks and tells Mr. Pugh she saw him talking with “Saint Polly Garter,” who Mrs. Organ Morgan claims was “martyred” by Mr. Waldo last night.
The irony of Mr. Pugh’s careful efforts to conceal the name of his book from Mrs. Pugh is that she already knows what the book is, since Willy Nilly told her earlier that day when he delivered it. Mr. Pugh should know this, since it’s common knowledge that Willy Nilly broadcasts everyone’s private business to the rest of the town, so there’s a comical element of absurdity to his not knowing that Mrs. Pugh is well aware that he’s reading about poisoners, not saints. Mrs. Pugh’s wry remark about “Saint Polly Garter” being “martyred” by Mr. Waldo is another example of the play’s ample use of playful innuendo. It also shows that, while many of the townspeople subscribe to Christian beliefs, they aren’t above committing minor sins, such as making a blasphemous comment for the sake of wordplay-based comedy. In realty, most characters compromise their personal or religious morals in one way or another, but this is what makes them entertaining, relatable, and refreshingly ordinary.
Mrs. Organ Morgan, who caught the lovers together, discusses her discovery with Organ Morgan. Apparently, Polly and Mr. Waldo claimed to be “looking for nests.” Mrs. Organ Morgan scowls at Polly’s promiscuous behavior and suggests that the single mother ought to give up her supposed hobby of “looking for nests,” since she already has so many children. Still, Mrs. Organ Morgan admits, Polly’s children are nice. When Mrs. Organ Morgan asks her husband which of Polly’s children he likes best, he replies “Bach,” which causes Mrs. Organ Morgan to cry and accuse him of not paying attention to her.
The Morgans’ relationship is fairly typical among Llareggub’s married couples in that it lacks intimacy and honesty. Mrs. Organ Morgan’s eagerness to share with her husband her titillating discovery of Polly and Waldo in the woods together shows how eager and starved she is to connect with him about anything at all, which is why she cries when his response of “Bach” (a Baroque composer, and one of Morgan’s musical heroes—not one of Polly’s children) shows that he hasn’t been listening to a word she’s said. Lastly, Mrs. Organ Morgan’s remark about how Polly and Waldo had pretended to be “looking for nests” when Mrs. Organ Morgan discovered them in the wood reaffirms nature’s association with freedom, and sexual freedom, in particular.
First Voice shifts the scene to Lord Cut-Glass, who is in his kitchen, feeding fish scraps to a dog. The walls of Lord Cut-Glass’s kitchen are adorned with 66 ticking clocks of various shapes and sizes, all set to a different hour. First Voice explains that Lord Cut-Glass “lives in […] a life of siege” and keeps all the clocks to stay alert in the event that an outsider tries to rob him. Second Voice interjects to explain how “the lust and lilt and lather [...] of the bird-praise and body of Spring” are lost on Lord Cut-Glass, who associates Spring with “nearness to the tribes” that will charge down “Armageddon Hill” to attack him.
First Voice’s description of Lord Cut-Glass as a man who “lives in […] a life of siege” suggests that he has paranoid tendencies and is perhaps not of sound mind—hanging 66 ticking clocks on the wall seems an extreme (and not particularly effective) defense against enemies who may not even exist in the first place. Lord Cut-Glass’s suspicions about Spring are similar to Jack Black’s: both men see something uncivilized, pagan, and unvirtuous about the way the Spring air inspires Llareggub’s townspeople to sing, be intimate, and let down their guard. When Second Voice describes Llareggub Hill as it exists to Lord Cut-Glass’s mind as “Armageddon Hill,” they suggest that Lord Cut-Glass sees Llareggub Hill and all the supposedly uncivilized activities that take place there as indicative of humanity’s evil, debauched nature.
As the afternoon draws on, and “the sea lolls, laps and idles.” Clouds float over Llareggub Hill, and donkeys and pigs dream. Mr. Pugh has fallen asleep at the table, and an irritated Mrs. Pugh calls him a pig. Mr. Pugh continues to daydream about poisoning Mrs. Pugh.
The sleepiness of Llareggub in the waning afternoon is reflected in the lazy movement of the sea, which “lolls, laps and idles.” The narrators draw attention to the water to reestablish the dreamy, contemplative mood they created in the play’s opening scene, in which the town was still, cloaked in darkness, and all its people were fast asleep.
First Voice redirects the listener’s attention to Captain Cat, who is sleeping beside his window, which faces the sea he traversed long ago, before he was blind. Cat dreams about rowdy times at dock bars with fellow seamen who’ve since died, and he cries in his sleep.
Since water symbolizes dreams and nostalgia, Cat’s position beside the sea symbolizes his inability to detach himself from feelings of nostalgia for his seafaring past, and grief over the fellow seaman he has outlived.
Second Voice interjects to describe one voice Cat remembers most clearly: young Rosie Probert, whose name is tattooed on his stomach, and who was the only woman the formerly promiscuous seafarer had ever loved. Rosie was seeing many other men while she was with Cat, but in his dream, she is his alone, and the lovers talk back and forth in rhyming verse. Rosie asks “Tom Cat” about the seas he traversed as a sailor, and Cat speaks poetically of “Seas barking with seals,/ Blue seas and green,/ Seas covered with eels/ And mermen and whales.” Cat and Rosie’s exchanges gradually become more explicit, and Cat proposes that Rosie let him “shipwreck in [her] thighs.” Rosie tells Cat to call for her twice at grave. Cat calls once, but before he can say her name again, Rosie disappears into the darkness.
This scene between Rosie and Cat, spoken in an exchange of rhymed verse, establishes a connection between poetry, nostalgia, and the sea. Cat’s emphasis on the “Blue seas and green,” evokes his longing for his seafaring days and the past more broadly. To Cat, the sea is a metaphor everything he's lost. This is why he uses nautical imagery to convey is longing for his former lover, expressing his desire to “shipwreck in [her] thighs.” Rosie’s sudden disappearance into the darkness proves that Cat’s time spent in memory is an inadequate and temporary relief for his grief, though. Ultimately, the past is gone, and, like Rosie, his memories of it will only fade with time.
A child passing by Captain Cat’s window with her mother sees the captain crying, but she becomes distracted by the sight of Nogood Boyo fishing in the bay. She tells her mother how Nogood Boyo “gave [her] three pennies yesterday but [she] wouldn’t,” without finishing the thought. Meanwhile, Nogood Boyo makes his first catch of the day: a whalebone corset, which conjures in his mind the image of Mrs. Dai Bread Two wearing nothing but a bangle. He imagines offering Mrs. Dai Bread Two the corset, but she immediately rejects it. Nogood Boyo wills himself to stop thinking dirty thoughts about Mrs. Dai Bread Two, insisting that he “want[s] to be a good Boyo, but nobody’ll let [him].” The image of Mrs. Dai Bread Two is replaced by that of a geisha girl dancing to Eastern music, and Nogood Boyo to lose control of himself.
It's unclear what the little girl is trying to tell her mother about her interaction with Nogood Boyo, but her mention of his offer to give her “three pennies” is reminiscent of Gwennie’s arrangement with the schoolboys to give her a kiss or a penny, which has some disturbing connotations, depending on how much older Nogood Boyo is than the girl. Meanwhile, on the water, Nogood Boyo continues to live up his name, conjuring dirty images of Mrs. Dai Bread Two in his head, though he seems ashamed and reluctant to do so. That Nogood Boyo’s dirty thoughts take place while he’s on the water reinforces the idea that nature—whether it be Milk Wood or the sea—allows people to behave more freely than society would otherwise allow. When Nogood Boyo insists that he “want[s] to be a good Boyo, but nobody’ll let [him],” he seems to identify implicitly the asymmetry between humans’ natural desires and the society that stifles those desires and makes them shameful. When he says “nobody’ll let [him]” be good, he refers to the dirty image of Mrs. Dai Bread Two that pops into his head without his consent, implying that it’s this instinctive and unwanted image won’t let him be good. In reality, Nogood Boyo’s thoughts are natural, and it’s society that makes him feel bad about them. At any rate, Nogood Boyo manages to construct a logic that allows him to condemn his dirty thoughts while taking pleasure in them anyway, on the grounds that he has no control over them.
Second Voice redirects the listener’s attention to Mae Rose Cottage, who lounges lazily in a field on Llareggub Hill. She blows on a dandelion and daydreams of “the dirty old fool” who loves her. First Voice shifts the focus to Reverend Eli Jenkins, who sits in his parlor—his “poem-room”—and writes his “Lifework,” a detailed account of Llareggub and its history. Jenkins calls the book “the White Book of Llareggub.” The walls of Jenkins’s poem-room are adorned with portraits of bards and preachers, as well as watercolor paintings that depict Milk Wood as “a lettuce salad dying.” The poem-room also features a portrait of Jenkins’s mother, though nothing depicts his father, Esau, who was too sick to be ordained, who was “scythed” while lying asleep in a cornfield and died sometime later, “of drink and agriculture.”
Mae Rose Cottage uses Llareggub Hill in the same way everyone else does: as an escape where she can go to let loose and give in to her natural desire without fear of judgment. Her action of blowing on a dandelion while fantasizing about “the dirty old fool” she wants for a lover underscores the connection between nature and sexuality. That Jenkins’s poem-room is decorated with images of bards and preachers reinforces his dedication to the artistic, performative pursuits that are central to the bardic tradition. The painting of Milk Wood depicted as “a lettuce salad dying” represents the decaying, antiquated town of Llareggub. Lastly, Jenkins’s comment about his father dying “of drink and agriculture,” seems to underscore how vastly different his life is than his father’s. Whereas his father suffered and died of self-destruction—of drinking and working his body into the grave—Jenkins’s life is characterized by contentment and creation: by his resolute journey to find beauty in his humble town, to document the history of its people, and to compose and perform poetry that celebrates and memorializes the meaningfulness of the town and people he so admires.
Meanwhile, at Salt Lake Farm, Utah Watkins curses his dairy cows, which refuse to give milk. He orders a deaf dog named Daisy to attack the cows, but Daisy only licks Watkins in response. As the Spring day begins to wane, Bessie Bighead calls the cows by name: “Peg, Meg, Buttercup, Moll, Fan from the Castle, Theodosia and Daisy.” First Voice interjects some background information about Bessie Bighead’s dismal past, which is contained in the White Book of Llareggub. According to First Voice, Bessie was “conceived in Milk Wood, born in a barn,” and ultimately abandoned. She was kissed just once, by the late Gomer Owen, who was dared to do it. These days, Bessie milks the cows, sings, and sleeps in daylight, “until the night sucks out her soul and spits it into the sky.”
Daisy’s refusal to hurt the cows suggests that the natural state of living beings is to be peaceful rather than violent. The vitriol that Utah Watkins directs at the cows is a learned thing—it’s his desire to make a profit from their milk that fuels his anger, not a natural desire to harm them. Bessie Bighead’s close connection to the cows, evidenced by her decision to call them by their names, suggests that she’s more in touch with peaceful nature than with cruel society; after all, society hasn’t been good to Bessie or given her the intimacy she needs. The only person who ever showed her any intimacy was Gomer Owen, and he only kissed her on a dare. Bessie’s desire to mourn Gomer’s death anyway suggests her desperation to connect with someone—anyone. The idea that “the night sucks of her soul and spits it into the sky” suggests that the nighttime—when all of Llareggub’s people are asleep and not around to treat her cruelly—is a freeing time for Bessie: a time that allows her normally constrained, muted soul to soar high into the heavens.
First Voice carries the listener’s attention back to town, where dusk has settled over the cobblestoned streets. Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard has already closed all her doors and blinds and retreated to her bedroom for the night, and the ghosts of Mr. Pritchard and Mr. Ogmore emerge to roam freely about the house. In her sleep, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard tells both her husbands she loves them, causing both of them to recoil in terror. Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard summons the ghosts to her room, and they reluctantly talk through their routines with Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, just as they did the night before.
Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard’s evening will be almost identical to the one the listener bore witness to in the very beginning of the play. The parallels between last night emphasizes the fact that the day in Llareggub that the audience has just witnessed is no different than any other day in the quaint, ordinary village, and that what made it meaningful and unique was the narrators’ keen observational skills and lush, poetic use of language, and the audience’s willingness to find significance and beauty in the mundane lives of Llareggub’s ordinary people.
Mae Rose Cottage is still lying in the field. She “draws circles of lipstick around her nipples” as she tells the nannygoats that she’s “bad” and destined for “hell.” Mae waits for God to “strike” her, though nothing happens.
Mae Rose Cottage’s longing to be so “bad” that she forces God to “strike” her conveys her inner desire for erotic pain. Her disappointment when nothing happens reflects the play’s larger theme of the universality of longing and failing to connect with others and have one’s desires met.
At the Bethsesda House, Reverend Eli Jenkins stands in the doorway and recites a “sunset poem” to Llareggub Hill. In the poem, Jenkins professes that while nobody who lives under Milk Wood is “wholly bad or good,” God will be able to see their goodness.
The Reverend’s point about God being able to see Llareggub’s townspeople’s goodness in spite of their flaws speaks to the play’s broader, optimistic stance on humanity, which is that despite the atrocities it is capable of committing (and has committed) there is no point at which humanity ventures past the point of redemption or forgiveness. To the Reverend, humanity—even in the aftermath of the biblical fall of man—is always deserving of goodness and improvement. That the Reverend looks to Llareggub Hill as he contemplates humanity’s goodness reinforces Llareggub Hill’s function as a symbol of humanity’s resilience in the face of change, and the innate goodness that fuels this capacity ofr resilence.
Jack Black prepares to intercept lovers in the woods. He dons a pair of “religious trousers,” grabs a torch and bible, and ventures into the darkening night. “Off to Gomorrah!” he cries. Meanwhile, Lily Smalls is with Nogood Boyo in the wash-house, and Cherry Owen ventures out to get drunk as his wife cheerfully waves him off. Sinbad Sailors greets Cherry Owen, though he inwardly pines for Gossamer Beynon.
Gomorrah is a biblical city that God destroyed for its wickedness. Jack Black’s declaration that he’s “off to Gomorrah!” to break up the lovers is played for comedic effect to convey his critical, condemning attitude toward sexual promiscuity. The goings on of the other characters in this scene—Nogood Boyo getting into trouble at the wash-house, Cherry Owen and the other drunkards returning to the bar, Sinbad Sailors continuing to pine silently for Gossamer—illustrates the continuation of ordinary life in Llareggub. Everyone settles back into their habits, and life goes on. If the listener were to have access to whatever tomorrow might bring for Llareggub, chances are, it’d be not much different than what they bore witness to today.
It’s finally night, and Llareggub becomes “a hill of windows,” which “call back the day and the dead that have run away to sea.” Women sing babies and old men to sleep.
“A hill of windows” refers to the distinct appearance of the many lit windows of the townspeople’s houses against the contrasting darkness of night. When the narrative explains that these windows “call back […] the dead that have run away to sea,” it refers to the way the return of night will inspire the people who sleep behind those windows to dream, once more, of the “dead” and the “lost” that they can only encounter in the “sea” of their dreams. The reemergence of night gives the play a symmetry that provides a feeling of closure: things are back to the way they began, with the town quiet, peaceful, and cloaked in the darkness of night.
Meanwhile, single women retreat to their rooms to get ready for tonight’s dance, and accordion music begins to play. In the Sailors Arms, men drink and condemn the dance. Cherry Owen, who has just finished his 17th pint of beer, “righteously” insists that dancing is sinful.
Cherry Owen’s “righteously” judgmental remarks about dancing are rather humorously hypocritical, given the fact that he’s not a particularly upstanding citizen himself, already on his 17th beer while the night is still young.
Second Voice calls the listener’s attention to the Llareggub hillside, and the accordion music stops. First Voice describes Reverend Eli Jenkins at work in his poem-room, where he writes about Llareggub Hill, calling it a “mystic tumulus,” and a “memorial” to those who have lived there since before the arrival of the Celts.
A “tumulus” is an ancient burial mound. By referring to Llareggub Hill as a “mystic tumulus” that has existed since before the arrival of the Celts, Jenkins places Llareggub within the larger context of history. His observation is hopeful and speaks to the resilience of humanity in the face of great change. Jenkins sees Llareggub’s people as part of the collective history of humanity, and he believes that their voices and lives are as worthy and as capable of withstanding the ravages of time as the ancient peoples who buried their dead beneath Llareggub Hill.
Mr. Waldo drinks in the Sailors Arms and sings a song about being a poor, young chimney sweep in Pembroke City who suffers until a married woman propositions him for sex. Meanwhile, Captain Cat crawls into bed and commences another night of troubled dreams about the dead and drowned, who begin to speak to him once more.
Waldo’s song about suffering until he is propositioned for sex in Pembroke, a town in West Wales, expresses his longing for connection, and his belief that intimacy—no matter how imperfect—will provide temporary relief from suffering. Captain Cat’s story ends as it begins: haunted by nostalgia for the life and people no longer with him, tortured by the grief of remembering the dead, yet simultaneously obligated to remember them in order to keep their memories alive and their voices heard.
Organ Morgan heads to the chapel to practice the organ and thinks he sees Johann Sebastian Bach lying on a tombstone, but it’s only Cherry Owen, who is drunk and barely conscious.
This absurd, drunken confrontation between Cherry Owen and Organ Morgan is undoubtably a story that Mrs. Cherry Owen will delightedly recount to her husband the following morning, in keeping with their established routine. Again, the play establishes that ordinary, routine life in Llareggub will continue business as usual after the audience is no longer around to bear witness to its goings on.
Mog Edwards and Myfanwy Price sit contentedly in their respective homes at the opposite ends of town and write love letter to each other. Mog thinks of Myfanwy and embraces his money.
There’s something tragic about the fact that Myfanwy and Mog would rather maintain the safe, predictability of a letters-exclusive romance than dive in headfirst, meet in person, and risk heartbreak or disappointment. Mog and Myfanwy’s learned insecurities—their fear of social embarrassment and shame—interfere with their natural, inner desire for each other. Still, it’s comical, as well, that they are simultaneously so in love and yet so content to avoid each other in perpetuity.
Meanwhile, Mr. Waldo and Polly Garter canoodle in the woods. Mr. Waldo “smacks his live red lips” greedily, but Polly Garter can only think of Willy Wee.
That Mr. Waldo and Polly Garter meet up in Milk Wood emphasizes the wood’s function as a symbol freedom from social norms. Mr. Waldo “smacks his live red lips” and temporarily quells his hunger, but their physical intimacy is ultimately unfulfilling for Polly, since Willy Wee is the only man with whom she truly desires a connection.
First Voice implores the listener to observe the darkening night and the breeze that blows over the sea. First Voice describes what Milk Wood is to different people. To “the hunters of lovers,” Milk Wood is a breeding ground for sin. To Mary Ann Sailors, who believes that the townspeople of Llareggub are God’s “chosen people,” Milk Wood is “a God-built garden.” To promiscuous farmhands, the Wood is an “ignorant chapel of bridesbeds.” And to Reverend Eli Jenkins, for whom The Woods are indicative of “the innocence of men,” the woods come alive “for the second dark time this one Spring day.”
First Voice ends their narration as they began it: with an invitation for the listener to be present and listen to the night that surrounds them. This symmetry shapes the play, imbuing it with a sense of closure and coherence. First Voice’s description of Milk Wood as a place of sin in the eyes of “the hunters of lovers” refers to Jack Black, who actively breaks up the lovers who go to the wood to engage in their trysts. In contrast, Mary Ann Sailors’s and Reverend Eli Jenkins’s views of the wood are more positive and hopeful, depicting the ancient wood as a sigh of humanity’s resilience in the face of change, and a sign that the people of Llareggub, in particular, have an “innocence” and inner goodness that won’t be diminished by the wrath of time. Jenkins’s observation about the woods coming alive “for the second dark time this one Spring day” refers to the way the wood comes alive tonight just as they did at the beginning of the play. It implies a permanence or predictability: the wood will come alive again and again, into eternity, because the wood—and the innocence and virtue it represents—are powerful forces that will withstand the ravages of time.