The sleepy fishing village of Llareggub isn’t a particularly happening town: it’s inhabited by fewer than 500 people and consists of little more than three streets and some surrounding farmland. By the admission of the Voice of a Guide-Book that provides background information about the town at the start of the play, Llareggub is a “decaying watering place” lacking in excitement and cultural relevance. Yet the Voice of a Guide-Book contends that a “contemplative” person might look beneath the town’s crumbling exterior and discover “curious customs” and “some of that picturesque sense of the past so frequently lacking in towns and villages that have kept more abreast of the times.” Indeed, there is a beautiful, redemptive quality to Llareggub’s resistance to change.
In the daily “sermons” he delivers from his doorway, Reverend Eli Jenkins, the town’s preacher and poet, declares his admiration for this resilience. And at the end of the play, First Voice describes how Jenkins perceives Llareggub Hill and the milk wood trees that grow there, as “a greenleaved sermon on the innocence of men.” To Jenkins, Llareggub’s somewhat battered appearance and resistance to change aren’t signs of a weakness or rejection of progress; on the contrary, they suggest the town’s resilience in the face of corruption: its inherent ability to maintain a sense of “innocence” in a rapidly changing, depraved world. Mary Ann Sailors, an eccentric and religious old woman who lives in town, shares Jenkins’ perspective; she sees Llareggub Hill as a “Garden of Eden,” or a place untouched by the original sin that incited humanity’s fall from biblical grace. Jenkins’ and Sailors’ views don’t suggest that Llareggub’s people are purer or more righteous than people who live in places that have kept up with the times. After all, Llareggub’s people are hardly saints: they drink, dance, lie, scheme, and have lots of sex on the very hill that Jenkins associates with their supposed “innocence.” Instead, Jenkins’ and Sailors’ faith in Llareggub’s eternal innocence seems to reflect the play’s counterargument to the cynical perspective that the violent, cruel, and alienating characteristics of modernity are indicative of humanity’s inherent sinfulness or are the consequence of a legitimate or imagined fall from grace. The play rejects the idea that time, sin, or evil have degraded humanity beyond the point of redemption. Instead, Under Milk Wood optimistically suggests that humanity possesses an inherent and resilient goodness that overshadows our flaws and renders us deserving of redemption.
Resilience and Redemption ThemeTracker
Resilience and Redemption 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. […] And in Coronation Street, which you alone can see it is so dark under the chapel in the skies, the Reverend Eli Jenkins, poet, preacher, turns in his deep towards– dawn sleep and dreams of
REVEREND ELI JENKINS. Eisteddfodau.
SECOND VOICE. He intricately rhymes, to the music of crwth and pibgorn, all night long in his druid’s seedy nightie in a beer–tent black with parchs.
Stand on this hill. This is Llareggub Hill, old as the hills, high, cool, and green, and from this small circle of stones, made not by druids but by Mrs. Beynon’s Billy, you can see all the town below you sleeping in the first of the dawn.
Less than five hundred souls inhabit the three quaint streets and the few narrow by-lanes and scattered farmsteads that constitute this small, decaying watering-place which may, indeed, be called a ‘back-water of life’ without disrespect to its natives who possess, to this day, a salty individuality of their own. The main street, Coronation Street, consists, for the most part, of humble, two-storied houses many of which attempt to achieve some measure of gaiety by prinking themselves out in crude colours and by the liberal use of pinkwash, though there are remaining a few eighteenth-century houses of more pretension, if, on the whole, in a sad state of disrepair. Though there is little to attract the hillclimber, the healthseeker, the sportsman, or the weekending motorist, the contemplative may, if sufficiently attracted to spare it some leisurely hours, find, in its cobbled streets and its little fishing harbour, in its several curious customs, and in the conversation of its local ‘characters,’ some of that picturesque sense of the past so frequently lacking in towns and villages which have kept more abreast of the times.
A tiny dingle is Milk Wood
By Golden Grove ‘neath Grongar,
But let me choose and oh! I should
Love all my life and longer
To stroll among our trees and stray
In Goosegog Lane, on Donkey Down,
And hear the Dewi sing all day,
And never, never leave the town.
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.
SECOND VOICE. Fishermen grumble to their nets. Nogood Boyo goes out in the dinghy Zanzibar, ships the oars, drifts slowly in the dab–filled bay, and, lying on his back in the unbaled water, among crabs’ legs and tangled lines, looks up at the spring sky.
NOGOOD BOYO. (Softly, lazily) I don’t know who’s up there and I don’t care.
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.
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.
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.
Llareggub Hill, that mystic tumulus, the memorial of peoples that dwelt in the region of Llareggub before the Celts left the Land of Summer and where the old wizards made themselves a wife out of flowers.
Blind Captain Cat climbs into his bunk. Like a cat, he sees in the dark. Through the voyages of his tears, he sails to see the 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.