Under Milk Wood lacks the features of a typical plot: there is no central conflict, no rising action, no climax, and no resolution to provide the play with a sense of meaning and purpose. And, notably, nothing happens that’s out of the ordinary: Under Milk Wood simply offers a slice-of-life representation of the mundane experience of a typical day in Llareggub, in which characters have dreams, write letters, go to the bar, or cook for their families. The play’s lack of traditional narrative structure and its emphasis on ordinary events draws attention to the role of storytelling in imposing meaning on human existence: it’s the play’s narrators (First Voice, Second Voice, and Captain Cat) who reflect on the goings-on of the people of Llareggub, telling their stories and revealing their hopes and fears and desires. Without the narrators’ commentary, the lives of the people of Llareggub would likely seem ordinary and meaningless, but it’s the narrators’ beautiful, evocative language and their way of drawing out each character’s psychological complexity that gives the play meaning and narrative charge. Their storytelling is especially important since this is a radio play: the audience cannot see what the characters are doing or what the town looks like, so they must rely on the storytelling alone to bring this world to life. That this play is so captivating without a traditional plot and without any extraordinary happenings points to the power of storytelling—simply describing human experience can be enough to make it feel meaningful and special, no matter how ordinary it is.
Storytelling and Ordinary Life ThemeTracker
Storytelling and Ordinary Life Quotes in Under Milk Wood
FIRST VOICE (Very softly)
To begin at the beginning: It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible–black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’–and–rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to–night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.
Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
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.
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.
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.
You can tell it’s Spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.