While many of the relationships between the play’s characters are intimate or romantic, Under Milk Wood does not depict idealized love. Instead, it finds delight and poignancy in flawed or thwarted love: cheating spouses, unfulfilling encounters, unrequited feelings, or even emotionless sex. One example of the play finding tenderness in flawed love is the marriage of Cherry Owen, a notorious drunk, and his wife, Mrs. Cherry Owen, who takes care of him. While her marriage is by no means ideal, Mrs. Cherry Owen genuinely loves her husband and she takes immense pleasure in reminding him of his drunken escapades, which he’s often too inebriated to remember for himself. Their love isn’t perfect, but it works. By contrast, Mr. Pugh and Mrs. Pugh’s marriage is comically bitter and cruel: while Mrs. Pugh torments her husband with an insufferable personality and constant nagging, Mr. Pugh fantasizes about poisoning her. The very lack of tenderness in their marriage is meant to seem exaggerated—it’s played for laughs. One of the play’s tragic storylines is about miscommunication: Sinbad Sailors and Gossamer Beynon are attracted to each other, but Gossamer fails to act on this attraction, which Sinbad interprets as lack of interest, so they never connect. The play is shot through with a sense of longing for intimacy that can never be fulfilled. Rather than framing this as tragic, though, the play seems to suggest that it’s ordinary: all love is flawed and no intimacy is perfect, but there’s still beauty and meaning in striving for connection.
The play is also notably up-front and nonjudgmental about sex. In place of emotional connection, many of the characters turn to physical intimacy to feel close to others. Polly Garter, for instance, longs for her true love who died, and since she can’t have him, she engages in numerous affairs with married men in town. And the baker, Dai Bread, has two wives while simultaneously dreaming about harems. All kinds of young lovers flock to the titular Milk Wood (which borders the town of Llareggub) to engage in their trysts. The open sexuality of Under Milk Wood’s characters, in combination with their complex and flawed romantic relationships, suggests the universality of longing—and failing—to connect with others.
Intimacy Quotes in Under Milk Wood
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 combs 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.
FIRST VOICE. From where you are, you can hear in Cockle Row in the spring, moonless night, Miss Price, dressmaker and sweetshop-keeper, dream of
SECOND VOICE. Her lover, tall as the town clock tower, Samson-syrup-gold-maned, whacking thighed and piping hot, thunderbolt-bass’d and barnacle-breasted, flailing up the cockles with his eyes like blowlamps and scooping low over her lonely loving hotwaterbottled body.
SECOND VOICE. Mrs. Rose Cottage’s eldest, Mae, peals off her pink–and–white skin in a furnace in a tower in a cave in a waterfall in a wood and waits there raw as an onion for Mister Right to leap up the burning tall hollow splashes of leaves like a brilliantined trout.
MAE ROSE COTTAGE. (Very close and softly, drawing out the words)
Call me Dolores
Like they do in the stories.
Oh, isn’t life a terrible thing, thank God?
Up the street, in the Sailors Arms, Sinbad Sailors, grandson of Mary Ann Sailors, draws a pint in the sunlit bar. The ship’s clock in the bar says half past eleven. Half past eleven is opening time. The hands of the clock have stayed still at half past eleven for fifty years. It is always opening time in the Sailors Arms.
Can’t hear what the women are gabbing round the pump. Same as ever. Who’s having a baby, who blacked whose eye, seen Polly Garter giving her belly an airing, there should be a law, seen Mrs. Beynon's new mauve jumper, it’s her old grey jumper dyed, who’s dead, who’s dying, there’s a lovely day, oh the cost of soapflakes!
CAPTAIN CAT. That’s Polly Garter. (Softly) Hullo, Polly my love, can you hear the dumb goose–hiss of the wives as they huddle and peck or flounce at a waddle away? Who cuddled you when? Which of their gandering hubbies moaned in Milk Wood for your naughty mothering arms and body like a wardrobe, love? Scrub the floors of the Welfare Hall for the Mothers’ Union Social Dance, you’re one mother won't wriggle her roly poly bum or pat her fat little buttery feet in that wedding–ringed holy to–night though the waltzing breadwinners snatched from the cosy smoke of the Sailors Arms will grizzle and mope.
Praise the Lord! We are a musical nation.
MRS ORGAN MORGAN. And when you think of all those babies she’s got, then all I can say is she’d better give up bird nesting that’s all I can say, it isn’t the right kind of hobby at all for a woman that can’t say No even to midgets. Remember Bob Spit? He wasn’t any bigger than a baby and he gave her two. But they’re two nice boys, I will say that, Fred Spit and Arthur. Sometimes I like Fred best and sometimes I like Arthur. Who do you like best, Organ?
ORGAN MORGAN. Oh, Bach without any doubt. Bach every time for me.
MRS ORGAN MORGAN. Organ Morgan, you haven’t been listening to a word I said. It’s organ organ all the time with you…
FIRST VOICE. And she bursts into tears, and, in the middle of her salty howling, nimbly spears a small flatfish and pelicans it whole.
ORGAN MORGAN. And then Palestrina,
SECOND VOICE. says Organ Morgan.
Captain Cat, at his window thrown wide to the sun and the clippered seas he sailed long ago when his eyes were blue and bright, slumbers and voyages; ear–ringed and rolling, I Love You Rosie Probert tattooed on his belly, he brawls with broken bottles in the fug and babel of the dark dock bars, roves with a herd of short and good time cows in every naughty port and twines and souses with the drowned and blowzy–breasted dead. He weeps as he sleeps and sails.
She is forgetting.
The earth which filled her mouth
Is vanishing from her.
I have forgotten you.
I am going into the darkness of the
darkness for ever.
I have forgotten that I was ever born.
I want to be a good Boyo, but nobody’ll let me.
FIRST VOICE. […] And Mr. Waldo drunk in the dusky wood hugs his lovely Polly Garter under the eyes and rattling tongues of the neighbours and the birds, and he does not care. He smacks his live red lips. But it is not his name that Polly Garter whispers as she lies under the oak and loves him back. Six feet deep that name sings in the cold earth.
POLLY GARTER. (Sings)
But I always think as we tumble into bed
Of little Willy Wee who is dead, dead, dead.
The thin night darkens. A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood. The Wood, whose every tree–foot’s cloven in the black glad sight of the hunters of lovers, that is a God–built garden to Mary Ann Sailors who knows there is Heaven on earth and the chosen people of His kind fire in Llareggub’s land, that is the fairday farmhands’ wantoning ignorant chapel of bridesbeds, and, to the Reverend Eli Jenkins, a greenleaved sermon on the innocence of men, the suddenly wind–shaken wood springs awake for the second dark time this one Spring day.