Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Dylan Thomas


[The] morning fishwife gulls … heckling over Donkey Street, observe: …
Mrs Dai Bread Two,
gypsied to kill in a silky scarlet petticoat above my knees,
dirty pretty knees,
see my body through my petticoat brown as a berry,
high-heel shoes with one heel missing,
tortoiseshell comb in my bright black slinky hair,
nothing else at all but a dab of scent,
lolling gaudy at the doorway,
tell your fortune in the tea-leaves,
scowling at the sunshine,
lighting up my pipe; …

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 homemade plum and butterpat; …

Polly Garter,
under the washing line, giving the breast in the garden to my bonny new baby.
Nothing grows in our garden, only washing.
And babies.
And where's their fathers live, my love?
Over the hills and far away.
You're looking up at me now.
I know what you're thinking, you poor little milky creature.
You're thinking, you're no better than you should be, Polly, and that's good enough for me. …

Polly Garter [Singing]:
I loved a man whose name was Tom
He was strong as a bear and two yards long
I loved a man whose name was Dick
He was big as a barrel and three feet thick
And I loved a man whose name was Harry
Six feet tall and sweet as a cherry
But the one I loved best awake or asleep
Was little Willy Wee and he's six feet deep.

Oh Tom Dick and Harry were three fine men
And I'll never have such loving again
But little Willy Wee who took me on his knee
Little Willy Wee was the man for me.

Eli Jenkins:
Every morning, when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep Thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.

And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure is always touch-and-go.

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.

O let us see another day!
Bless us this holy night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, goodbye - but just for now! …

Captain Cat:
I'll tell you no lies.
The only sea I saw
Was the seesaw sea
With you riding on it.
Lie down, lie easy.
Let me shipwreck in your thighs.

To Begin at the Beginning

[Silence …]
[Very softly]

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 tonight 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.

  • the babies are sleeping,
  • the farmers, the fishers,
  • the tradesmen and pensioners,
  • cobbler, schoolteacher,
  • postman and publican,
  • the undertaker and the fancy woman,
  • drunkard, dressmaker,
  • preacher [and] policeman,
  • the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives.
Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood.
The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jolly, rodgered sea.

  • And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields,
  • and the cows in the byres,
  • and the dogs in the wetnosed yards;
  • and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs. …

Only your eyes are unclosed, to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.
And you alone can hear the [dew falling, the hushed town breathing, and] the darkest-before-dawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where:
  • the Arethusa, the Curlew
  • the Skylark, Zanzibar, [and] Rhiannon,
  • the Rover, the Cormorant and the Star of Wales,
tilt and ride.

Listen [to the] night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llareggub Hill, dew fall, star fall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood. …

It is night,
  • in the chill, squat chapel, hymning, in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah;
  • night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino;
  • in Ocky Milkman's loft, like a mouse with gloves;
  • in Dai Bread's bakery, flying like black flour.
It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles,
  • past curtained fernpot,
  • text and trinket,
  • harmonium [and] holy dresser,
  • watercolours done by hand,
  • china dog and rosy tin teacaddy.
It is night, neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

It is night,
  • dumbly, royally winding through the Coronation cherry trees;
  • going through the graveyard of Bethesda, with winds gloved and folded and dew doffed;
  • tumbling by the Sailors Arms. …

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 coms 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,
  • mazes and colours, …
  • dismays and rainbows, …
  • tunes and wishes, …
  • [the] flight and [the] fall, and …
  • [the] big seas of their dreams.

[Listen:] you can hear their dreams. …

At the sea-end of town, Mr and Mrs Floyd, the cocklers, are sleeping as quiet as death, side by wrinkled side, toothless, salt, and brown, like two old kippers in a box. …

Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, … picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn't looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time. …

Willy Nilly postman downs his last bucket of black brackish tea and rumbles out bandy to the clucking back where the hens twitch and grieve for their tea-soaked sops.

Mrs Willy Nilly full of tea to her double-chinned brim broods and bubbles over her coven of kettles on the hissing hot range always ready to steam open the mail. …

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. …

A car drives to market, full of fowls and a farmer.
Milk churns stand at Coronation Corner like short, silver policemen. …

The morning's busy as bees.
[Out background organ music]
There's the clip clop of horses on the sunhoneyed cobbles of the humming streets, hammering of horseshoes, gobble quack and cackle, tomtit twitter from the bird-ounced boughs, braying on Donkey Down.
Bread is baking, pigs are grunting, chop goes the butcher, milk churns bell, tills ring, sheep cough, dogs shout, saws sing.
the Spring whinny and morning moo from the clog dancing farms,
the gulls' gab and rabble on the boat bobbing river and sea and
the cockles bubbling in the sand, scamper of sanderlings, curlew cry, crow caw, pigeon coo, clock strike, bull bellow, and
the ragged gabble of the beargarden school as the women scratch and babble in Mrs Organ Morgan's general shop where everything is sold: custard, buckets, henna, rat-traps, shrimp nets, sugar, stamps, confetti, paraffin, hatchets, whistles. …

Outside, the sun springs down on the rough and tumbling town.
It runs through the hedges of Goosegog Lane, cuffing the birds to sing.
Spring whips green down Cockle Row, and the shells ring out.
Llareggub this snip of a morning is wildfruit and warm, the streets, fields, sands and waters springing in the young sun. …

Spring stirs Gossamer Beynon, schoolmistress, like a spoon. …

Gossamer Beynon high-heels out of school.
The sun hums down through the cotton flowers of her dress into the bell of her heart and buzzes in the honey there and couches and kisses, lazy-loving and boozed, in her red-berried breast.
Eyes run from the trees and windows of the street steaming, 'Gossamer', and strip her to the nipples and the bees.
She blazes naked past the Sailors' Arms, the only woman on the Dai-Adamed earth. …

[The] clocks with no hands [are] forever drumming out [the] time without ever knowing what time it is. …

[A long silence]
The sunny slow lulling afternoon yawns and moons through the dozy town.
The sea lolls, laps and idles in, with fishes sleeping in [her] lap.
The meadows still as Sunday, the shut-eye tasselled bulls, the goat-and-daisy dingles, nap happy and lazy.
The dumb duck-ponds snooze.
Clouds sag and pillow on Llareggub Hill.
Pigs grunt in a wet wallow-bath, and smile as they snort and dream. …
[And the donkeys] angelically drowse on Donkey Down. …

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.

(Under Milkwood, 1953)

DYLAN THOMAS (1914–1953)

  • Under Milkwood, 1953.

    Lily Smalls

    … Lily Smalls, Mrs Beynon's treasure, comes downstairs from a dream of royalty who all night long went larking with her full of sauce in the Milk Wood dark, and puts the kettle on the primus ring in Mrs Beynon's kitchen, and looks at herself in Mr Beynon's shaving-glass over the sink, and sees:
    Oh, there's a face!
    Where you get that hair from?
    Got it from old tom cat.
    Give it back then, love.
    Oh, there's a perm!

    Where you get that nose from, Lily?
    Got it from my father, silly.
    You've got it on upside down!
    Oh, there's a conk!

    Look at your complexion!
    Oh no, you look.
    Needs a bit of make-up.
    Needs a veil.
    Oh, there's glamour!

    Where you get that smile, Lil?
    Never you mind, girl.
    Nobody loves you.
    That's what you think.

    Who is it loves you?
    Shan't tell.
    Come on, Lily.
    Cross your heart then?
    Cross my heart.
    And very softly, her lips almost touching her reflection, she breathes the name and clouds the shaving-glass.

    Mrs Beynon [Loudly, from above]:

    Lily Smalls [Loudly]:
    Yes, mum.

    Mrs Beynon:
    Where's my tea, girl?

    Lily Smalls [Softly]:
    Where d'you think?
    In the cat-box?
    Coming up, mum

    Mr and Mrs Pugh

    Mr Pugh, in the School House [across the street,] takes up the morning tea to Mrs Pugh, and whispers on the stairs:
    Mr Pugh:
    Here's your arsenic, dear.
    And your weedkiller biscuit.
    I've throttled your parakeet.
    I've spat in the vases.
    I've put cheese in the mouseholes.
    Here's your … [door creaks open] … nice tea, dear.

    Mrs Pugh:
    Too much sugar.

    Mr Pugh:
    You haven't tasted it yet, dear.

    Mrs Pugh:
    Too much milk, then.
    Has Mr Jenkins said his poetry?

    Mr Pugh:
    Yes, dear.

    Mrs Pugh:
    Then it's time to get up.
    Give me my glasses.
    No, not my reading glasses, I want to look out.
    I want to see.

    Lily Smalls the treasure down on her red knees washing the front step.
    Mrs Pugh:
    She's tucked her dress in her bloomers — oh, the baggage!

    PC Attila Rees, ox-broad, barge-booted, stamping out of Handcuff House in a heavy beef-red huff, black-browed under his damp helmet … lumbering down towards the strand to see that the sea is still there.
    Mrs Pugh:
    He's going to arrest Polly Garter, mark my words.

    Mr Pugh:
    What for, my dear?

    Mrs Pugh:
    For having babies.
    … and lumbering down towards the strand to see that the sea is still there.

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