Friday, March 5, 2010

Notes For March 5th, 2010

This Day In Writing History

On March 5th, 1954, Under Milk Wood, the famous play by legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, was published in London, England - four months after the author's untimely death. The "play for voices" was originally written for BBC radio.

Under Milk Wood features an omniscient narrator who invites the audience to listen to the dreams and thoughts of the people who live in the small, seaside Welsh village of Llareggub. The Welsh-sounding name Llareggub is actually a crude English phrase (bugger all) spelled backwards - an example of Thomas' humorous wordplay.

Who lives in Llareggub? The twice married Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard's husbands are both dead - so she nags their ghosts. The blind Captain Cat dreams of his seafaring adventures and his long dead love, Rosie Probert. Dai Bread, the village baker, who has two wives, (one for the day and one for the night) dreams of harems. Polly Garter pines for her dead lover and dreams of babies. Meanwhile, Nogood Boyo can't be bothered to dream at all, and Organ Morgan is obsessed with his music.

Those are just some of the over five dozen characters in the play, as Thomas paints funny, affectionate, sensitive, and sometimes disturbing portraits of people he had grown up with in the seaside Welsh village of his childhood.

Under Milk Wood had already been commissioned and paid for in advance by the BBC. Thomas turned over his handwritten manuscript to a professional typist. After the typed copy was returned to him, he lost it. He phoned his BBC producer to report the loss and told the man that if he could find the missing manuscript, he could keep it. The producer did find it - in a Soho pub - resulting in legal wrangling over the rightful ownership after Thomas died.

Not long after he lost and regained his manuscript for Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas embarked on his final American tour, where he participated in the first reading of his play on May 14th, 1953, at the Poetry Center in New York City. His health had already begun to deteriorate. Nearly six months later, he would die at the age of 39.

At first, Thomas was thought to have died of a cerebral hemorrhage, but then there were reports that he had been the victim of a violent mugging. There were also reports that he drank himself to death, (he was a roaring alcoholic notorious for his drinking binges) died of drug addiction, or succumbed to diabetes complications. Actually, he died from a severe case of pneumonia, which resulted in swelling of the brain due to lack of oxygen. Thomas had been plagued with breathing problems for some time and used an inhaler. While Thomas' autopsy showed that his liver was in surprisingly good condition, there were signs of alcohol poisoning.

In his book Fatal Neglect: Who Killed Dylan Thomas?, author David N. Thomas (no relation) claimed that Dylan Thomas really died from medical malpractice when his personal physician, Dr. Feltenstein, misdiagnosed his severe pneumonia as delirium tremens, and gave him morphine. Then, to cover his tracks, he pressured other doctors to conclude that Thomas died from complications of alcoholism.

Quote Of The Day

"An alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do." - Dylan Thomas

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading from Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood - performed by Sir Richard Burton!

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