Tag Archives: Blog 7

Blindness, dreams and death

1 Jun

I found Captain Cat from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood particularly interesting because he is the audience’s relatable character due to the fact that like the listener he is blind. He like the listener constructs the world of Milk Wood through sound and descriptions acting as a guide (blind guiding the blind). By listening to both the action of the village around us as well as his descriptions we are able to move through space in an interesting way. For example page 42-48 when Willy Nilly is delivering the mail, Captain Cat guides us through the mailman’s route creating a kind of map in the listener’s mind’s eye.

“First Voice: Captain Cat hears Willy Nilly’s feet on the distant cobbles.

Captain Cat: One, two, three, four, five… That’s Mrs Rose Cottage. What’s to-day? To-day she gets the letter from her sister in Gorslas…” (45)

            This is but one example of the many in this scene where footstep are then followed by Captain Cat’s descriptions (or perhaps a better word is narration) of who, what and where which helps the listener not only understand what is happening but also where it is happening. Captain Cat acts a lot like the disembodied First Voice and Second Voice. Like these narrative voices that are located outside of the village realm Captain Cat is also a kind of outsider.  He has no family, he is blind, he appears to live alone, he is an integrated but still separate component of the community. And for the listeners he is narrator and also one that helps map out and orient oneself to this unseen world.

            Also linked with darkness, night, dreaming and blindness is the otherworld of the dead which this radio play braids in with the reality of the living and the world of dreams to create a whole. Captain Cat seemed to have the strongest link to the dead or at least has greatest number of  visiting ghosts which come to him through his dreams and memories. In the very beginning he is visited by all his drowned crewmates from the past. They recount to the captain their demise and also ask about the present, about their loved ones.

“Fifth Drown: And who brings coconuts and shawls and parrots to my Gwen now?

First Drowned: How’s it above?

Second Drowned: Is there rum and lavabread?

Third Drown: Bosoms and robins?” (5)

They are painful reminders of the past and how time moves ever onward but at the same time they are present in the dreams, alive in a way and interacting with their lost future. In this way Under Milk Wood plays with time, blending the past and present. It plays with the idea of death and dreams as a kind of death, a way to transport to that quiet dead world and interact with lost companions. I thought the interaction between Captain Cat and Rosie Probert was particularly interesting because it highlights this plays interest in death, ghosts and memory. The interaction is bittersweet, recalling the lovers past but also reminding the Captain that he is all alone and Rosie, who is long dead, is forgetting that she ever existed.

The play is obsessed with memory, we get most our information about our characters lives and histories through memories and dreams of others. Dreams are like memories that allow people from the past, alive and dead, to interact with the dreamer.  The listener is granted access through these dream states to the histories of these individuals. All of these memories must be spoken and described to us by someone because, of course, this is a radio play which is supposed to be heard and not seen. As a result these surreal dream and memory accounts create a story that you must follow with your mind’s eye.

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Blog #7

25 May

Blog #7

Sound Literature

In Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, the eternal meets the ephemeral as he harnesses the entire capacity of communication through literature and radio. As the leading technology for communication of the time, the radio allowed for the exportation of language and its forms through the Third Programme in such a way that it could reach millions of people efficiently and affectively. This is no surprise given that the radio was designed as a communicatory device, and its methods of broadcasting, was responsible for the rapid dissemination of artistic and intellectual works to become broadened to a wider and more numerous audience of listeners. Not only were different social groups reached on a large scale, but intrinsically separate factors were permeated, such as variance of age. Radio became a democratizing force for these different social classes, as well as a unifying force for altering age groups. Ultimately, radio was able to reach those who had no way of seeking out information through books and articles, essays and plays due to age-related disadvantages. For the first time in history, the third program brought British entertainment, education, and culture to its children.

Under Milk Wood is a thoroughly enriched bedtime story, a sophisticated nursery tale for children to enjoy and experience intellectual growth. This is done throughout the play by using famous rhymes such as “this little piggy,” and techniques of getting children to fall to sleep like counting sheep: “And high above, in Salt Lake Farm, Mr Utah Watkins counts, all night, the wife-faced sheep as they leap the knees on the hill, smiling and knitting and bleating just like Mrs Utah Watkins.” Mr. Utah Watkins has carried his childish sleeping habits into adulthood, which is the intent of such comforting cultural traditions. Tradition is an educational tool for future generations. Thus, acculturation through the “literature of sound” creates a sense of placement and wellbeing for children, it helps shape the imagination and functional mental capacities, as well as develop a sense of social identity. In Under Milk Wood, (and plenty of other works) the Third Programme becomes a sort of secondary parenting unit by teaching humanities to children who happened to be under the umbrella of British cultural influence. Throughout the play Thomas implores a healthy supply of literary devices, such as rhymes and poetic diction, which become highly effective within children stories. The use of artistic language gives the child’s feasting mind a multitude of images “titbits and topsyturvies, bobs and buttontops, bags and bones, ash and rind and dandruff and nailparings, saliva and snowflakes and moulted feathers of dreams, the wrecks and sprats and shells and fishbones, whale-juice and moonshine and small salt fry dished up by the hidden sea.” The sound of all these images strung together shares with the listener a string of uncommonly strung words. It teaches children free association, a rhetorical method of connecting symbolic items and objects in uncommon order and combinations to create new meaning. Under Milk Wood sounds like a much like a bedtime story: “Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea,” therefore, it can easily be seen as directed towards children, girl and boy alike, who are learning what their minds should be dreaming. It is easy to imagine how such radio plays, with its addition of sound effects and other sound artifacts, would play with the listener’s and enhance their experience as well.

There are, for the child listener, lessons to be learned through the way Thomas presents the characters, and their roles in society. Informative dialogue reaches the listener as instructive, thus making the play a veritable means of teaching children social etiquette and the like. For instance, when Mrs. Pritchard-Ogmore is directed what tasks are to be completely as a daily routine: “I must put my pajamas in the drawer marked pajamas…I must take my salts which are nature’s which are nature’s friend…I must…” and etc. This sort of informative dialogue advances upon the listener’s mind, and especially upon that of a child’s. The radio becomes advantageous to reading in the realm of child learning because of the fact that it is common for children to learn how to read much later than what they can comprehend through sound and language alone. The radio, with plays such as Under Milk Wood, contributed to the education and expansion of the complexity of perceptions of the child. The play uses elevated vocabulary, diction, yet remains accessible to and beneficial to a wide range of age groups. The child’s understanding, and cognitive abilities have the potential to grow each time they listen to the play because it has layers of complexity opposed to a simple book written for a target age group.

The radio play, Under Milk Wood, with its poetic devices, strange and vibrant imagery invites the youngest minds to learn the ways that the imagination functions in higher, more abstract forms. The spoken language, that of sounds, increases the imaginative ability of youngsters because they are being told instead of depending upon their own readership. They are learning how to be active listeners to sounds and music which is training them to be better listeners. Not only is the play a new integration for the child to actively take part in the familiarization of a sound culture, but as it is administered through a broad spectrum which is accessible to all ages and any who speak and comprehend the language, certain levels and degree of which is understood varies, thus providing children with information on the subject, as well as the expectation for future assimilation into this society. Under Milk Wood teaches children to be active listeners of a sound culture.

Nostalgia and Memory in UMW

25 May

Nighttime is conducive to remembering and looking back on the past for the characters of Under Milk Wood. The short radio play describes a fictional Welsh village and a day in the life. During the dream sequences in which the listener hears descriptions of the characters’ dreams, memories of past and present become one. The village status quo and habits of daily life occur according to the patterns of the village. A single day that starts at night and ends at night (as opposed to starting at sunrise and ending at sundown) is just one unit in the lives of the characters. Simultaneously, the village itself acts as a single unit that operates outside of any centralized government (as far as the listener/reader can tell) and is functional standing on its own.

In the first scene when Captain Cat dreams of his sailors that have drowned and are now dead he speaks with a few people in his dream, the Second Drowned asks, “Do you see me, Captain? the white bone talking? I’m Tom-Fred the donkeyman… we shared the same girl once… her name was Mrs Probert…” (Thomas 4). The Fifth Drowned tells Captain Cat his name in the dream, “Curly Bevan. Tell my auntie it was me that pawned the ormolu clock” (Thomas 4). These are very interesting manifestations of characters passed. For one, this is the only capacity in which the reader knows these drowned people. It is not clear whether they are actual souls visiting Captain Cat in his sleep (who knows for certain whether or not Second Drowned actually slept with Mrs Probert), or if they are fabrications of Captain Cat’s dreams and are products of his subconscience. Whether or not the Second or Fifth Drowned actually did that while they were living, it is obvious that the people Captain Cat remembers are concerned with human relationships, and by extension that Captain Cat is concerned with human relationships too. They have come back from the dead in a form of a dream to tell Captain Cat about their relationships with people when they were living. Whether the drowned sailors are in actuality looking back on their lives, and because all humans are relational beings, they are concerned with close friends and family members from their time on earth.

Another dream that Captain Cat has is about Rosie Probert, who was his favorite lover. In his dream they have a dialogue and sing to each other. They go on together; she calls him her “favorite husband,” and he claims to her “Let me shipwreck in your thighs” (Thomas 77). The motif of remembering gets repeated when Rosie tells Captain Cat in his dream “Remember me. I have forgotten you. I am going into the darkness of the darkness for ever. I have forgotten that I was ever born” (Thomas 78). I want to point out that again the motif of remembering is about remembering people who were close to the characters. As opposed to what Reith was attempting to spark British people into remembering, or as opposed to what the Third Program was trying to achieve, Captain Cat and the other characters of Under Milk Wood (especially those were lucky to find love) remember their lovers passed. They remember tender moments of time spent with people they loved and who are now gone. The nostalgia comes with death, and is forgotten in the nighttime, according to Rosie Probert.  I really think this close focus on human relationships and the certainty that all great things must end is due to the close-knit kinship of the community that is portrayed. It is a small town in which most people have never left. The fabric of their community is built of who knows whom and who is involved with whom, meaning that the people of the town spend a lot of their time with other people. By emphasizing this foundation of the community, the mere fact that people are close and fond of each other, I believe that the community that was portrayed is relatable to nearly everyone who heard Under Milk Wood on the radio. It is those basic relationships that needed to be cultivated in Post-war Britain, also, because the society has lost faith in ideologies.

Polly Garter in the same way remembers her closest lover, whose name was Willy Wee. She compares Willy Wee to all of her other lovers and concludes that he was the best one. She clarifies that Willy Wee isn’t alive anymore, and repeats “O 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” (Thomas 60). The tone that she speaks in sounds nostalgic, and maybe she likes him best because he is already gone. But when looking back on all of her experiences with men, she remembers Willy Wee most fondly and clearly, and repeatedly refers to him throughout the play.

-Susan Reid

Blog 7: Unification in Under Milk Wood

24 May

In Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, the dynamics between the various characters are representative of the cohesive future that Britain is hoping for. The tension that is present throughout the play is essential in helping listeners to understand the concept of a national identity and what defines it. The friction is expressed through the diction and use of alliteration found in the text. The quick pace of the play, in addition to the frequent  overlapping of characters’ voices demonstrates that at a certain level, tension can result in unification.

An example of alliteration and diction being used to create a balance of tense and united is the description of Miss Myfanwy Price and one of the boys’ mothers. When speaking about the mother, Thomas uses phrases like “milky mum,” “cowbreath,” and “fat birth-smelling bed” (Thomas 66). Directly after this description, Miss Myfanwy Price is described as “a puff-bosomed robin” with “gobstoppers big as wens that rainbow as you suck, brandyballs, winegums” (66). These descriptions clearly oppose each other, but the manner with which they are delivered makes them flow together. The alliterations and almost list-like format of the phrases make for a quick pace, so that the descriptions of the mother transitions effortlessly into the description of Miss Price. The contradictions between one woman and the other are unified by the oral delivery, mirroring the possibility for opposing beliefs or lifestyles to be brought together by a single commonality.

One of the most interesting examples of this dynamic is between Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard and her two dead husbands. The diction is repetitive, as the husbands begin most sentences with “I must” (16). Both men list off their tasks, and in the audio track, the pace seems to quicken as the list continues. Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard jumps in occasionally to give specifications, but the back-and-forth nature of the husbands’ lines creates a rhythm that is both strained–as they begin to overlap one another–and fluid at the same time. Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard’s bossy demeanor seems to be accepted by her husbands, as they acknowledge her role as the dominating spouse. Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard’s nagging, though it presents a touch of conflict, is an integral element of her relationship with her husbands. Without that slight discord, perhaps the relationships would not have worked; thus, the dynamic needs some tension in order to work the way that it does.

This understanding of one’s role in the scheme of a larger interaction parallels the concept of a national identity. After World War II, Britain was searching for a way to reunite the British people and rebuild the British identity that had once been so distinct. Under Milk Wood gives the listener a vision of a town that has its share of discrepancies, but that has common ground in the fact that they live in the same place. The variation of characters is vast, which is evident simply in the size of the cast. The gossiping and judgmental nature of the townspeople would appear to result in a divided, anti-social environment, but it creates quite the opposite. The entire cast is connected by where they live, and the setting of a small, closely-knit town plays a crucial role in relating this to the existence of a British identity. It shows that even if a group of people do not necessarily agree on every issue or lead similar lifestyles, they can still inhabit the same place and form a collective identity based on their shared environment.

The characters in the play and the bond they share as members of the same town alludes to the opportunity for Britain to rebuild their national identity. It displays that differences are important elements of a unified community and that where one lives is enough of a reason to feel connected to others.

–Madeline Turner

Week 8: Under Milk Wood

22 May

With a pretty uneven, zig-zag plot and whimsical, somewhat fairytale like character names, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood is unlike any other play for a multitude of reasons. First off, it was written by Thomas to be spoken on the radio, and this influences many of the elements that went into writing the play. For instance, the sounds that are heard bounce back and forth between different gossip circles and city chatter, and there is never a clear distinction between voices, although patterns can be found in dialects and accents. One thing that the town does clearly possess, however, is the ability to form a cohesive bond and identify as the town of Llaregub.

There are many aspects of the quaint, fictional, seaside town that Thomas has created that show its flaws and how those flaws are not what drive the town apart, but that it is the presence of those interactional problems that allow for the town to thrive. For the audience, the gateway into visualizing these problems comes from the excerpts about their dreams, which are a tool that Thomas provides for us as being the source for a deeper insight into the characters thoughts and desires that are not spoken out loud. As the characters awaken, however, we get to see what activities they enjoy partaking in and how they interact with each other, and the only time that we are able to see their vulnerabilities and struggles again is when Thomas introduces the town gossip.

For example, we learn about a man by the name of Waldo and the problems that he has at home with his wife as a result of the affair that he allegedly had. (p. 10) We never hear this straight from the either his or his wife’s mouths and instead get the gist of it from the neighbors and other townspeople that gives away their not-so-private struggles and secrets. We also hear about a man who is love with everything about a certain woman, except for her education background, and this also gives us a deeper knowledge of the time and place that this play was recorded. Another sign that gives away the play’s timeframe is the music that is played in between various parts of the play; the songs possess an old-fashioned quality to them as they use the modal scales in their melodies, which is another nod to the play’s age.

A common theme that Thomas gives us, despite the play’s lack of verticality and cohesion, is the human hunger and yearning for something that everyone in the play seems to be talking about: love. We see all age groups searching for and experimenting with different forms of love, from kids playing a kissing game in the schoolyard in hopes of finding puppy love (pg. 62), to a lonely teenage girl named Mae Rose Cottage who spends her days daydreaming in the fields and drawing lipstick around her nipples, to an innocent mother who dreams about her babies and her long lost love as she cleans all day. The sounds in the play also dance around the theme of love, with the popular lyrics of “He loves me, he loves me not (pg. 81) being sung, which is something that most all listeners can identify and connect meaning with.

Thus, the play’s potential for writing down the aural history of this town, which narrates things that do not normally get written down, is able to bring out the unspoken thoughts and desires of the Welsh townspeople, ultimately showing that behind these character’s complex lives and relationships, they are all searching for one common feeling  – and that is love.

– Nikita Salehi

Last round!

19 May

Last blogs! By 5 p.m. on Friday, May 25th:

  • Bloggers R-Z post new blogs.
  • Bloggers A-H reply to last week’s blogs. Go to the posting and leave a comment!

This week’s topic, obviously, is Under Milk Wood. You’re free to discuss any angle on it; you might, for example, want to think about linking it to last week’s conversations about the BBC. This would also be a good time to start comparing/contrasting/synthesizing/tying up threads; you might go back to the opening lecture, for example, and think about how we could apply it to Thomas’s text.

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease tag your blogs “Blog 7.”

Also remember that if you’ve missed a blog or reply at some point, you may make up one posting by June 2nd.