I don’t know about you, but formal education instructed me to consider the proper subject of poetry to be elevated ideas and lofty sentiments, self-reflecting melancholy, metaphysical exposition, even, often constructed with abstruse cleverness. But what is grander than life’s earthiness? That you can grab in handfuls, throw into the air and watch fall?
Give me poetry that leaves the intellect for dust and sings another song: Dylan Thomas’s kind of truth, for example, down-to-earth and unaffected, able to conjure private worlds out of the communal dreaming dark in bold metaphor and be life’s very music.
Under Milk Wood gives you this in spades. Sonorous, lyrical poetry of the everyday, clothed in tragic-comic rags, a celebration of small-town folk, their dreamworlds, hopes, fears, desires, nostalgia and sad humour. Thomas’s drama for voices is a single poetic whole making, like Baudelaire, gold out of the mud. It is a play of passions, a paean of love for a town and its people that does and does not, of course, exist.
Richard Burton’s rendition is one of Wales’s glories. Less dramatic yet even more evocative to my ear are the opening lines in Michael Sheen’s penetratingly mellow delivery in the BBC Wales production, which is enacted by a wondrous array of actors. You can hear and see the whole piece on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osOLGHlvzW8