Places: Under Milk Wood

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1954

First produced: public reading, 1953; radio play, 1954; first staged, 1956

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Indeterminate

Places DiscussedLlareggub

Llareggub Under Milk Wood (yah-REH-guhb). Small fishing village on the coast of Wales. Despite the name’s Welsh appearance, it is actually a typical Thomas joke–“bugger all,” spelled backward. The phrase is a vulgar colloquialism which means “nothing” or “worthless” in British English–Thomas’s way of suggesting that the play’s actions be taken lightly.

Thomas seems to have modeled the village on the real Welsh coastal village of Laugharne, where he lived for many years. Despite his joking name for Llareggub, his play treats the village with love. The Milk Wood trees on the hills above it, its streets and lanes (Goosegog Lane, Coronation Street), its River Dewi–all such details suggest Thomas’s interest in making a realistic, if sometimes comic, territory for his characters, themselves sometimes comic, to inhabit. Although village life may be universal, characters such as Organ Morgan, with his passion for the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Reverend Eli Jenkins, whose passion is poetry, bear the stereotypes of the Welsh character.

Like the people who live there, Llareggub is defined by the sea. Its pub is the Sailors Arms; retired Captain Cat lives in Schooner House; and always in the background of the play’s action is the bay itself, bobbing with its fleet of fishing boats.

Milk Wood

Milk Wood. Wooded area in the hills above Llareggub. To Thomas, Milk Wood is a place of wonder and love. To old Mary Ann Sailors, humble in her faith, it is God’s garden, the proof of Eden, a heaven on earth, and her belief is that Llareggub is the Chosen Land. To the restless, night-haunted village boys and girls it is the bridal bed of secret love. To the Reverend Eli Jenkins it is a sermon in green, wind-shaken leaves on the innocence and goodness of humanity.

BibliographyHolbrook, David. “ ‘A Place of Love’: Under Milk Wood.” In Dylan Thomas: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by C. B. Cox. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Views the play as the romanticized “toy town” of Thomas’ childhood. Considers the play trivial when it is contrasted with James Joyce’s work.Korg, Jacob. Dylan Thomas. New York: Twayne, 1965. Chapter 8 is devoted to Thomas’ prose, including Under Milk Wood. Sees the work as lacking the substance of Thomas’ poetry, but praises the play’s comic vitality, its humor, and its theme of “the sacredness of human attachments.”Moynihan, William T. The Craft and Art of Dylan Thomas. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966. Notes Under Milk Wood’s humor, its idealized characters, and its theme of the importance of asserting beauty in an imperfect world.Rea, J. “Topographical Guide to Under Milk Wood.” College English 25, no. 7 (April, 1964): 535-542. Describes a map of Milk Wood created to help students visualize the play’s action, comments on the source of some place names, and includes a map of the village.Williams, Raymond. “Dylan Thomas’s Play for Voices.” In Dylan Thomas: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by C. B. Cox. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Summarizes the play’s acting history and examines Thomas’ use of narrative, dialogue, and song. Compares the play to the Circe episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).
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