Monday, May 23, 2011


My two favourite plays are Under Milk Wood and Our Town. Both are wonderful examples of what I refer to as ‘literary mindfulness’ – analogous stream of consciousness writing where the form of the written text presents, in a direct, unmediated and observant fashion, images piled one on top of the other which are neither entirely verbal nor textual.

Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood in 1954 as a play for radio ... a 'play for voices'. It covers twenty-four hours in the life of an imaginary - but otherwise very ‘real’ - small coastal village in Wales called ‘Llareggub’ [re-spelt, much to Thomas' dislike, in early editions of the play (see below) as 'Llaregyb' so as not to offend]. (Read 'Llareggub' backwards – pure Dylan Thomas!)

It is night. All the citizens of Llareggub are asleep. As you read these opening lines from the play, try to envisage the reality behind the words themselves. Let your imagination move from one image to the next ... ‘noting’ the pleasure or pain of each passing, ever so transient, moment ... pausing just long enough to capture the moment before it disappears into the giant abyss ... always remembering to stay present from one moment to the next.

Alternatively, or additionally, you can listen to the rich, resonant voice of Richard Burton as he reads the lines that follow.

Either way, let it be for you an exercise in mindfulness training, for that is what it is ...

To begin at the beginning:

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, fishingboatbobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night 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.

Hush, 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, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives. 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. 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.

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

Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.

Listen. 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 lofts like a mouse with gloves; in Dai Bread's bakery flying like black flour. It is to-night in Donkey Street, trotting silent, With seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

Look. 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.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

The Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne
 '... an ugly, lovely town ... crawling, sprawling ... by the side of a long
and splendid curving shore. This sea-town was my world.'

What craftsmanship! What attention to detail! What imagery! What curiosity! And what good ‘advice’ with respect to the art of mindfulness ... Begin at the beginning ... Hush ... Listen ... Look ... Time passes ...

Your eyes are always ‘unclosed’ in mindfulness ... even when they are closed. You see, you are always watching something ... for you are ever ‘awake’. Bare attention. Choiceless awareness.

Dylan Thomas knew that life –  the one life –  was to be lived from one moment to the next. The wonder and beauty and ‘meaning’ (ugh!) of life is to be found in the minutiae of the mundane and the everyday – in 'this world order, the same for all', in the words of the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus. That is reality ... and reality just is.

So, don’t look afar for what you seek. Stay with the imagery of one image after another ... and, yes, live on the 'surface' for, paradoxically, that is where the 'depth' is to be found. Take, as you find them, the events and occurrences of daily life, and accept any 'meanings' they may present. Seek not any 'hidden purpose' nor any so-called 'ultimate reality' – there are no 'ultimates' as such – other than the one order or level of reality – the one way of being – in which all things live and move and have their being.

Is that not enough for you?

Under Milk Wood: Copyright 1954 by New Directions Publishing Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


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