My current read is Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, a book of semi-autobiographical short stories, tales of Thomas’s early life in Swansea, as beautifully written as his poetry; but it’s Under Milk Wood, Thomas’s play for voices, that I really want to talk about. It must surely be one of the most beautifully lyrical things ever written in the English language. Just the tumbling, twisting word-play alone is enough but I love the vivid character studies, bawdy black humour - ‘bombazine black’ – and the whole imbued with a wistful melancholy that makes it ripe for illustration. There are images spilling from every page.
Here’s a passage which epitomises Thomas’s expressive character descriptions, lyricism and observance of human relationships: the first exchange between the draper Mog Edwards and his inamorata Miss Myfanwy Price. Their passion for each other, declared through letters, flames with what could be though they have never met.
‘From where you are you can hear in Cockle Row in the spring,
moonless night, Miss Price, dressmaker and sweetshop-keeper,
dream of her lover, tall as the town clock tower, Samsonsyrup-gold-maned,
whacking thighed and piping hot, thunderbolt-bass'd and
barnacle-breasted, flailing up the cockles with his eyes
like blowlamps and scooping low over her lonely loving
Mr Mog Edwards!
I am a draper mad with love. I love you more than all the
flannelette and calico, candlewick, dimity, crash and merino,
tussore, cretonne, crepon, muslin, poplin, ticking and twill
in the whole Cloth Hall of the world. I have come to take
you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums
on wires. Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh
wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric
toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast.
I will knit you a wallet of forget-me-not blue, for the
money, to be comfy. I will warm your heart by the fire so
that you can slip it in under your vest when the shop is
Myfanwy, Myfanwy, before the mice gnaw at your bottom drawer
will you say
Yes, Mog, yes, Mog, yes, yes, yes.
And all the bells of the tills of the town shall ring for
[Noise of money-tills and chapel bells]’
What a joyful celebration of the English language Under Milk Wood is! And hearing it is even better than reading it so have a listen to the first part here. Enjoy.