Context: One of the books on the bookshelf in our bedroom at our new place in Bar Hill.
This only takes about thirty minutes to read from cover to cover – not that you have to read the cover of course. But in that short time, Thomas takes your imagination and kneads it gently at first and then in increasing intensity until you find yourself whirling through the streets and homes of his small Welsh seaside town.
I’ve fulfilled an ambition reading this. My childhood was a bit fractured, to say the least, but one of the memories that has endured was a small collection of books my parents had. They didn’t have much, it seemed to me, because we lived abroad where books were expensive and hard to come by.
Under Milk Wood was one of the books that I remember looking at. I thought it was strange inside as I’d never seen a play written down before that. It had a lovely pastoral Welsh scene on the cover too which, as I grew up in the Middle East, also made quite an impression.
So, in reading this today, I’ve finally got round to reading one of the books on that shelf. It feels like I’ve completed not just a novel but a chapter in my life.
Anyway, the play is remarkable. It’s remarkable for its rhythms, its use of poetry and prose (the boundaries seemed ill-defined throughout) and the way that, like Woolf’s later works, the words are heavy with imagery.
Unlike Woolf though, and I’d say this is the Welsh coming through, there’s a lovely humour that toys with you all the way through. It’s quite subtle but it’s there and really polishes off the prose.
One character in particular reminded me of my wife. This could well be her:
“Me, Miss Price, in my pretty print housecoat, deft at the clothesline, natty as a jenny-wren, then pit-pat back to my egg in its cosy, my crisp toast-fingers, my home-made plum and butterpat.”
There were stretches of it that I hadn’t a clue about but I read and appreciated enough to know that the problem lay, not with the author, but with his audience.
To begin at the beginning
Nothing grows in our garden, only washing.
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 know there is a heaven on earth and the chosen people of His kind fire in Llaregyb’s land, that is the fairday farmhand’s wantoning ignorant chapel of bridesbeds, and, to the Revernd 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.
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