38 pages 1 hour read

Dylan Thomas

Under Milk Wood

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1954

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Summary and Study Guide


Under Milk Wood is a “play for voices” by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. First performed for radio in 1954, two months after Thomas’s death, the play depicts life in the small town of Llareggub. The play has been adapted many times since its first performance and has been hailed as a landmark achievement in Welsh literature.

This guide is written using the 2015 W&N edition.

Plot Summary

Under Milk Wood opens at night in the small Welsh coastal town of Llareggub. It is narrated by First Voice and Second Voice, who directly address the audience. First Voice leads the audience on a tour of the townspeople, visiting each one’s dreams. A blind ship’s captain named Captain Cat suffers from nightmares about his drowned friends. They want to return to the land of the living, but he cannot help them. Elsewhere, Myfanwy Price and Mog Edwards are in separate houses, dreaming of one another. Mr. Waldo’s dreams are memories of his youth and romantic failures. Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard dreams about her dead husbands.

The next morning, the local priest, Reverend Eli Jenkins, speaks about how much he loves the town during his regular sermon. He promises that he will never leave. Mr. Pugh reflects on how much he dislikes his wife. When Lily Smalls gets out of bed, she complains about her sad life. Outside, characters go about their morning routines, introducing themselves to the audience. Among them is Mrs. Cherry Owen, who shares an amusing account of her husband’s previous night. His drunkenness amuses her. Butcher Beynon playfully chides his wife while they eat breakfast. Willy Nilly, the local postman, is watched by Captain Cat as he delivers letters. He delivers mail to Mrs. Pugh, Mr. Waldo, Mog, and Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard. Dai Bread is the local baker. He has two wives, who seem to get along.

Mrs. Organ-Morgan runs a local shop. Inside, the women gather to gossip about everyone in Llareggub. Willy Nilly steals a letter written by Mog for Myfanwy, believing that it is a love letter. With his wife, he uses steam to open it and learn about the affair, which only takes place in the world of letters. Willy Nilly often gossips about what he has learned by reading people’s letters. As the hours pass, the gossiping voices almost drown one another out until they are stopped by the arrival of a woman named Polly Garter. She has many children, much to the disapproval of the townspeople. Mrs. Dai Bread Two claims to be in possession of supernatural powers. She uses her crystal ball to tell Mrs. Dai Bread One about a vision, claiming to have seen their husband sharing a bed with two women.

In the evening, a dance will be held at Welfare Hall, the community center of Llareggub. Polly cleans the step of the hall and sings a sad song about the only man she truly loved, Little Willy Weazel. Little Willy passed away many years before, leaving her alone. When Reverend Jenkins hears Polly’s song, he thanks God for the gift of music.

By the time the afternoon arrives, the local children are excited to be let out of school. They run singing and shouting through the streets while Captain Cat joins them in song. One of the little girls, Gwennie, confronts the local boys, telling them that they owe her either a kiss or a penny. The schoolteacher, Gossamer Beynon, attracts a great deal of attention from the local men. They watch her walk along the street in high-heeled shoes. They do not know that Sinbad Sailors, who works in the local pub, is in love with Gossamer. She loves him too, but they have never declared their feelings to one another. The local fishermen end their work and head to the pub where Sinbad works, Sailors Arms. Captain Cat falls asleep and dreams about Rosie Probert. He cries while he sleeps. Reverend Jenkins is working on a book titled The White Book of Llareggub, which will commemorate the town.

Evening arrives. The women of the town return home to prepare themselves for the big dance. In the Sailors Arms, the drunken men complain that dancing should be seen as a sin. In her bedroom, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard reflects on the memories of her deceased husbands. Their ghosts visit her as she thinks about their lives. In different parts of town, Myfanwy and Mog think about each other. They both begin to write long letters, confessing their love to one another. Polly is having an affair with Mr. Waldo. They have agreed to meet under Milk Wood. Jack Black has already planned to go through the forest, disrupting the lovers who often meet there. The narration describes why Milk Wood is so important to so many different people. Jack, the narration explains, believes that Milk Wood is a sinful place. For lovers like Mary Ann Sailors, the wood is an important escape. For Reverend Jenkins, Milk Wood represents humanity’s innocence.