A grieving PM Julia Gillard quoted Dylan Thomas in Parliament after the death of her beloved dad, John, aged 83, in Adelaide on 7 September. Her dad, who grew up in a small Welsh mining town and left school at 14, loved poetry and often quoted to her the famous Welsh poet’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.
Dylan Thomas wrote the poem for his dying father. Its last verse, desperate and defiant, reads:
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The celebrated poem is featured in a back-lit panel displayed in the Dylan Thomas museum in Swansea, where he was born. Put a visit to the museum on your bucket list. Annie and I ticked it off in 2007. Exquisite.
Equally exquisite was hearing, on 1 September, Thomas’s Under Milk Wood performed by the Whistling Vicar Theatre at the Melbourne Welsh Church. I mention the date because the play is about a glorious spring day in the eccentric, but fictional, Welsh town of Llareggub (bugger all backwards!).
The play epitomises Thomas’ love of words. It is enchanting (‘the fields go down to the hazed town, rippling like a lake, to drink’), funny (‘throw away your little bed socks 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’), sometimes cruel and probably misogynist, but nevertheless pure music to the ears (‘Listen. It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fern pot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolors done by hand, china dog and rosy tin tea caddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies’.)
For that reason, it’s best listened to read out loud. The Whistling Vicar players were terrific. You can also listen to it on line, done by Dylan himself or another Welshman Richard Burton.
Audio samples online
Dylan Thomas reading ‘Do Not Go Gentle…..’
‘To begin at the beginning…’ Opening lines of Under Milk Wood recited by Richard Burton
From Under Milk Wood: Rev. Eli Jenkins’ evening prayer