Book Of A Lifetime: Under Milk Wood, By Dylan Thomas

In Nicholson Baker's book 'The Mezzanine', he discusses the periodicity of recurring thoughts, wondering about those thoughts which travel on a loop, each taking intervals of weeks or months to complete their orbit and resurface again. I first read 'Under Milk Wood' by Dylan Thomas on a coach in Australia when I was 24, and I'd guess I've thought about it every two to three weeks since then. It joins a jumble of other regular visitors, including: diminishing fish stocks, guilt-induced but wildly unfeasible resolutions for being better at staying in touch with friends, Helen Keller, the phrase "you pays your money and you takes your choice", and scientific footage of a white rat with spinal injuries swimming in a tank.

The play centres around one day in a small, unexceptional Welsh coastal town. We first meet the colourful residents at a point before dawn, the night "flying like black flour", as the reader drifts in the dark over the fields and streets, through the bedrooms of the sleeping residents and into their dreams. From there we watch as they wake up and work, following them out of bed over this one day and then finally back into bed as night falls.

Thomas's melodic and beautiful use of language creates a charming world, a fish tank of eccentrics affectionately observed with all their passions and peccadilloes. He writes with great warmth, rogues and saints alike treated with charity and humour. The reader views all characters with an easy sympathy, happy to be in their company. When I read it, as I have done so many times, I am reminded to be more generous with people.

My stock of pet quotes from 'Under Milk Wood' often surface unbidden and at random. As "a play for voices", it's always extremely tempting to say them aloud, despite being in a queue at the supermarket: "Tell my missus no I never, I never done what she said I never"; "Call me Delores like they do in the stories". Occasionally, when I'm nagging my boyfriend over some dull domestic task I remember the tyrannically house-proud Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard ordering her two ghostly husbands to list their morning duties: "I will eat a charcoal biscuit because it is good for me; I must blow my nose in a piece of tissue-paper which I afterwards burn."

These blend in with other memories of Richard Burton's famous recording of the play. I made a hash of putting it on my iPod. The play starts with Burton "beginning at the beginning", introducing the sleeping characters, his fabulously commanding voice informing us that "From where you are, you can hear their dreams" - at which point it immediately, mysteriously, cuts into Ritchie Valens's "La Bamba". Curiously, this mishap goes some way to summarise my feelings about 'Under Milk Wood' – for me it's a sunny, spirited toast to humanity in all its grand and mundane, reluctantly loveable messiness.

Rebecca Hunt is the author of 'Mr Chartwell' (Penguin)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea