Dylan Thomas: The Caedmon Collection

January 8, 2011

Although listening to novels and non-fiction books in audiobook format is certainly rewarding in its own right, nothing quite beats hearing poetry recited out loud. This is so simply because poetry, as an art form, is created with the ear in mind. Poetry is the literary equivalent of music. And no one recites poetry quite like 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Thomas became quite famous for his poetry readings in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and was the first artist recorded for the now historic Caedmon Audio, a audio company formed by two young college graduates in 1953.

In 2002, the full collection of Thomas’ Caedmon recordings was released, comprising 11 in discs in total. In burly, lilting tones, Thomas passionately evokes the pastoral landscapes of his native Wales, while also giving voice to the anguish of his young and disenchanted contemporaries who witnessed two world wars.
In addition to his poems, Thomas recites two prose pieces–Adventures in the Skin Trade and Quite Early One Morning–both of which are just as lyrical as his poems.

My personal favorite in the Thomas Caedmon Collection is the performance of “Under Milkwood”, a play written specifically for radio broadcast. Inspired by his stay during the winter in the town of New Quay, Wales, Thomas wrote “Milk Wood” as a tribute to the town’s humble inhabitants. In the Caedmon Collection , Thomas himself narrates the play, the only known recording of him doing so. It begins in Thomas’ signature, Welsh-inspired style:

“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”

As the play progresses, Thomas takes us into the dreams of a colorful cast of characters, including a sea captain, a milkman, a reverend, and thirty others, culminating in the town’s awakening and going about its day. Thomas was said to have written the play in response to the bombing at Hiroshima, to demonstrate the beauty was still possible after such terrible destruction.

Other favorites in the collection include “Fern Hill” a meditative poem about youth, and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, Thomas’ reflections on spending the holidays with family. For those who are not quite familiar Dylan Thomas’ work, the disc set includes several introductions to specific works as well as to the Thomas oeuvre as a whole. They provide an excellent context in which to ground Thomas’ stunning prose and poems, his voice recordings, and more. For those who are fan of the spoken word, you simply can’t go wrong with this one-of-a-kind collection.

Bio: Hajera Blagg is a freelance writer based in Houston, TX. She often contributes content to OnlineUniversities.

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