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Woods, hills, valleys and shores in Wales and Northern Ireland. A literary journey with Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney.

Think of as many words as you can to describe the picture. Write the words in the table below.







  • What kind of place is it? Could it be located in your country? Why (not)?

  • Have you ever been to a similar place?

  • Would you like to live in a place like this? Why (not)?

Use the words from the table and your answers to describe the picture in your own words.


UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas’ radio play Under Milk Wood starts with the description of a fishing village in Wales that could be quite similar to the one in the picture above.

Under Milk Wood was originally presented as a radio play. As such, the spoken word is its essence. The subtitle of Under Milk Wood is “A Play for Voices”.

The play was written by Thomas in the Boathouse in Laugharne, far from the cities of Wales and England. The project took several years to reach fruition, Thomas having begun work on it in 1949. It is his only play and his most famous piece of writing.

The work dramatises the lives of people who live in a small town on the Welsh coast. The story takes place over the course of one day, it offers us a representation of provincial Welsh life in the mid-twentieth century and it’s ideally divided into three partes:

  • Behind the eyes —> It’s nighttime. The characters sleep, and Two omniscient narrators, First Voice and Second Voice invite the listener to gaze inside the townspeople’s dreams.

  • Before the eyes —> Upon awakening, in the morning, we can “see” their thoughts

  • Full circle —> Twilight, end of the day and return to the dark world of dreams

Part 1

On a dark Spring night, all the townspeople of Llareggub (read this word backwards!) are fast asleep. Captain Cat, a blind, retired sea captain, is tormented by visions of drowned shipmates and his former lover, Rosie Probert. Mr. Mog Edwards, the draper, and Miss Myfanwy Price, the sweetshop-keeper and dressmaker, have romantic dreams about each other. Mr. Waldo, a notorious drunkard, dreams of his childhood and failed marriages. Polly Garter, a single mother with many children from different men, dreams of “babies,” and Jack Black, the cobbler, dreams of antagonizing young couples in Milk Wood, the small, wooded area on Llareggub Hill where lovers’ trysts occur. Mr. Pugh, the schoolmaster, dreams of poisoning his dreadful wife, Mrs. Pugh, and Reverend Eli Jenkins dreams of Eisteddfodau, a Welsh village festival of poetry and music.

The play continues in this manner, with First Voice and Second Voice introducing each character by describing the contents of their dreams. As the sky grows lighter, a Voice of a Guide-Book interrupts First Voice and Second Voice’s narrative to provide more background information about Llareggub, describing the small fishing village as “decaying” and unremarkable at first glance, though a “contemplative” outsider might appreciate Llareggub’s nostalgic atmosphere and the unique, eccentric personalities of its citizens.

Part 2

When morning arrives, the townspeople begin their daily routines. Reverend Eli Jenkins opens his door and delivers a poetic sermon on his love of his town. Mr. Pugh daydreams about poisoning Mrs. Pugh, who is busy gossiping about the neighbors. Mary Ann Sailors, an old, religious woman, opens her window and declares her exact age (85 years, three months, one day) to the town. Organ Morgan, the town organist, thinks about music and ignores his wife. Willy Nilly, the postman, heads out to deliver the townspeople’s mail, which he and Mrs. Willy Nilly steam open and read in advance. As he makes his rounds, he shares the gossip he’s gleaned from his snooping.

Part 3

As day turns into evening, women retreat to their rooms to prepare for the night’s dance, while the drinkers in Sailors Arms grumble about the sinfulness of dancing. Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard retreats to her bedroom, and the ghosts of her dead husbands reluctantly return to her. Mr. Mog Edwards and Miss Myfanwy Price sit in their respective bedrooms on the opposite ends of town and write love letters to each other. Polly Garter and Mr. Waldo head to Milk Wood to conduct their affair. Jack Black prepares for an evening of disrupting lovers’ trysts in the wood. First and Second Voice describe what Milk Wood means to different townspeople. To Jack Black, it is place of sin; to lovers, it is a sanctuary; to Mary Ann Sailors, it is the Garden of Eden; and to Reverend Eli Jenkins, it symbolizes “the innocence of men.”

Listen to the opening paragraphs of Under Milk Wood read by Dylan Thomas and fill in the missing words.

To begin at the beginning:

It is __________, 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 __________. The houses are blind as __________ (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town __________, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are __________ now.

Hush, the babies are sleeping, the __________, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the __________ and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy __________. Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their __________, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The __________ are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite statues of the __________ sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the __________ in the wetnosed yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town __________. Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, __________. And you alone can hear the invisible starfall, the darkest-beforedawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dabfilled __________ where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.

__________. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the __________ growing on Llaregub Hill, dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.

Listen. It is night in the chill, squat __________, hymning in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, __________ choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino; in Ocky Milkman's lofts like a mouse with __________; in Dai Bread's bakery flying like black flour. It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is __________ neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

__________. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of Bethesda with __________ gloved and folded, and dew doffed; tumbling by the Sailors Arms.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

Come __________ now.

Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent __________, bandaged night. Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms. and petticoats over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth, Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the __________. Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their __________.

From where you are, you can hear their dreams.

Captain Cat, the retired blind sea-captain, asleep in his bunk in the seashelled, ship-in-bottled, shipshape best cabin of Schooner House dreams of […]

Look at the following four pictures. Read the text and describe what’s happening.


Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was one of the greatest writers from Wales and a giant in the 20th century.

He first arrived in Laugharne in 1934 aged 19, together with a friend, the poet Glyn Jones. He lived at the Boathouse with his family for the last four years of his life during which time many major pieces of work were written - including Under Milk Wood.

Set in a cliff overlooking the glorious Taf Estuary, the Boathouse offers a fascinating visit including bookshop and tea-room.

Thomas used a shed a little further along Cliff Road as his retreat, and did most of his writing there while he lived at the Boathouse. His poem, "Over Sir John's Hill", celebrated the view of the  estuary it gave him, Sir John's Hill being located across the bay.

Thomas's boathouse inspired Roald Dahl to create his own writing hut at his Gipsy House, his home in Buckinghamshire

It was from the Boathouse that Dylan made the fateful journey to New York where he died in 1953 aged 39; an early death that turned a talent into a legend.


Describe what you see in the four pictures below.

Which of these images is your favourite? Why?

Match the phrases below to the pictures (1, 2, 3, 4)


And as I was green and carefree, famous  among the barns


And nightly under the simple stars


Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs


Out of the whinnying green stable


In the moon that is always rising,


In the sun that is young once only,


And honored among wagons I was prince of the apple towns


My wishes raced through the house high hay


The night above the dingle starry,


All the sun long it was running


Under the new made clues and happy as the heart was long


And the sun grew round that very day.

FERN HILL (1945)

The lines above come from Dylan Thomas’ famous poem Fern Hill. In the poem he describes the farm he visited in his childhood and recreates a child's view of a beautiful and innocent world. Listen to the audio recording of the poem being read. Complete the poem with the lines (A - L) from the table above.


About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,    


Time let me hail and climb     

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,


And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves          

Trail with daisies and barley     

Down the rivers of the windfall light.


About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,    


Time let me play and be     

Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,          

And the sabbath rang slowly     

In the pebbles of the holy streams.

________________________________________ it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air     

And playing, lovely and watery          

And fire green as grass.    


As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars     

Flying with the ricks, and the horses          

Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all     

Shining, it was Adam and maiden,          

The sky gathered again   


So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm    


On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house


In the sun born over and over,          

I ran my heedless ways,     


And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs     

Before the children green and golden          

Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me

Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,    


Nor that riding to sleep     

I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,          

Time held me green and dying     

Though I sang in my chains like the sea

In this poem Dylan Thomas paints a picture of Fern Hill with his words. Look at the poem again and analyse its language. Find words associated with:







Fern Hill is a poem about childhood memories and about growing old. Discuss the following questions with your classmates:

• Did you go to special places when you were a child?

• Are there memories of your childhood connected to a natural landscape that you would like to share?

P.S. The 1970 song “La Collina” by Francesco Guccini was inspired by this poem.

SEAMUS HEANEY (1939-2013)

Seamus Heaney was the eldest member of a family which would eventually contain nine children. His father owned and worked a small farm of some fifty acres in County Derry in Northern Ireland, but the father’s real commitment was to cattle-dealing. The poet’s mother came from a family called McCann whose connections were more with the modern world than with the traditional rural economy.

The poet has commented on the fact that his parentage thus contains both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution; indeed, he considers this to have been a significant tension in his background, something which corresponds to another inner tension also inherited from his parents, namely that between speech and silence. His father was notably sparing of talk and his mother notably ready to speak out, a circumstance which Seamus Heaney believes to have been fundamental to the “quarrel with himself” out of which his poetry arises.

Heaney grew up as a country boy and attended the local primary school. As a very young child, he watched American soldiers on manoeuvres in the local fields, in preparation for the Normandy invasion of 1944. Even though his family left the farm where he was reared (it was called Mossbawn) in 1953, and even though his life since then has been a series of moves farther and farther away from his birthplace, the departures have been more geographical than psychological: rural County Derry is the “country of the mind” where much of Heaney’s poetry is still grounded.

In the course of his career, Seamus Heaney has always contributed to the promotion of artistic and educational causes, both in Ireland and abroad. In 1995 he was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." 

"When you take a boat out on the Erne waters, you voyage into time. The islands lie, like stepping stones, in the long river of our past.” In this video from 1972, Seamus Heaney explores the islands  of Lough Erne in Northern Ireland (left picture).

He encounters an ancient and mysterious stone statue on Boa Island and imagines what the old gods in Ireland were like, before the arrival of Saint Patrick.

The monastic round tower of Devenish Island (right picture) is a reminder of those early Christian missionaries who "startled the nature gods and put them to flight."


Use this glossary of terms to annotate the poem with their meanings.




The shape of his father’s shoulders as he bent to his work/ rounded like a ships sail


Part of the plough – the farmer holds these to guide the plough

Clicking Tongue

Farmers controlled their horses with clicking noises from their mouths

Wing – sock

Part of the plough – the angle of the blade cutting into the earth


The end of the field where the plough needed to be turned round to plough the other way


Long, narrow trench made by a plough


Surface layer of soil or grass

My father worked with a horse-plough,

His shoulders globed like a full sail strung

Between the shafts and the furrow.

The horses strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing

And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.

The sod rolled over without breaking.

At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned round

And back into the land. His eye

Narrowed and angled at the ground,

Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,

Fell sometimes on the polished sod;

Sometimes he rode me on his back

Dipping and rising to his plod.

I wanted to grow up and plough,

To close one eye, stiffen my arm.

All I ever did was follow

In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,

Yapping always. But today

It is my father who keeps stumbling

Behind me, and will not go away

Write a summary about what happens in each of the six stanzas. Comment on what is being described and whether any feelings are shown and your general observations.









In this poem Heaney remembers life on the farm. Often as a boy he would follow his father as he ploughed. At this stage of his life, Heaney wanted to follow his father’s footsteps – to become a farmer and plough the land.

  • Look at how the narrator describes himself. How does he see his own skills?

  • What did he think of his father when he was a child? How is this different from how he sees his father now?

  • In the final lines, he says that now that he is older and a poet, it is his father, in a way, who follows him. Why do you think Heaney decided to end the poem with the description of his father in the present?

Riccardo Zambon, 24 February 2024



Quando ero giovane e ingenuo sotto i rami del melo

Presso la casa piena di canti e felice perchè l'erba era verde,

La notte alta sulla valletta stellata,

Il tempo mi lasciava esultare e arrampicarmi

Dorato nei bei giorni dei suoi occhi,

E fra i carri ero il principe onorato delle città di mele,

E una volta oltre il tempo sovranamente feci trascinare

Alberi e foglie e orzo e margherite

Lungo i fiumi di luce dei frutti abbattuti dal vento.

E poichè ero verde e spensierato, famoso pei granaiIntorno all'aia felice e cantavo perchè il podere era casa,

Al sole che soltanto allora è giovane,

Il tempo mi lasciava giocare tutto d'oro

Nella misericordia dei suoi mezzi, e verde e d'oro

Ero mandriano e cacciatore, i vitelli cantavano al mio corno,

Sulle colline le volpi latravano, limpide e fredde,

E la domenica lenta risuonava

Nei ciottoli dei sacri ruscelli.

Per tutto il sole era un correre, era bello, i campi

Di fieno alti come la casa, le melodie dei camini, era aria

E gioco, allegro e fatto d'acqua,

E il fuoco verde come erba.

E, a notte, sotto le semplici stelle, come ioIncontro al sonno cavalcavo, i gufi si portavano via la fattoria,

E per tutta la luna, beato fra le stalle, udivo il volo

Dei caprimulgi e dei mucchi di fieno

E i cavalli nel buio come lampi.

E poi sveglio e la fattoria tornava, come un vagabondo

Bianco di rugiada, col gallo sulla spalla; ogni cosa

Splendeva, era Adamo e vergine,Il cielo s'addensava nuovamente

E il sole tondo nasceva proprio in quel giorno.

Così dev'essere stato, appena creata la luce, nel primo

Spazio rotante, i cavalli incantati uscendo caldi

Fuori dalla nitrente verde stalla

Verso i campi di lode.

E fra le volpi e i fagiani onorato presso la casa ridente,

Sotto nuvole appena create e felice quanto il cuore durava,

Al sole che più volte era già nato,

Percorsi le mie strade sventate, i desideri

Correvano tra il fieno alto, una casa,

Né mi curavo, nei miei azzurri traffici, che il tempo non concede,

In tutti i suoi giri melodiosi, altro che pochi canti mattutini,

Prima che i fanciulli verdi e d'oro

Lo seguano fuori della grazia.

Non mi curavo, ai giorni bianco-agnello, che il tempo m'avrebbe portato

Nel solaio affollato di rondini con l'ombra della mia mano,

Nella luna che sempre sta sorgendo,

Né che nel sonno cavalcando l'avrei udito volareInsieme agli alti campi e mi sarei svegliato

Nel podere fuggito per sempre dalla terra senza bambini.

Oh, quando ero giovane e ingenuo nella misericordia dei suoi mezzi,

Verde e morente mi trattenne il tempo,

Benché cantassi nelle mie catene come il mare.

CHI SEGUE [Follower]

Mio padre lavorava con aratro e cavallo,

le sue spalle incurvate una vela spiegata

tesa fra stegole e solco tracciato.

Il cavallo tirava più forte, allo schiocco di lingua.

Un esperto. Orientava il versoio

e appuntava il tagliente del vomere, brillante d’ acciaio.

Si staccava la zolla, e ruotava compatta.

Giunti in fondo, con un colpo soltanto

Di redini, la madida coppia girava

e tornava sul campo. Lui fissava un sol occhio

socchiuso al terreno,

a far dritto a dovere il suo solco.

Barcollavo a seguire la traccia delle scarpe chiodate,

cadevo talvolta sulla malta lucente;

altre volte mi faceva salir sulle spalle, a cavallo,

e s’andava arrancando su e giù.

Volevo crescere e arare,

stringer l’occhio al suo modo, rafforzare il mio braccio.

Tutto quello che ho fatto è seguire

quell’ampia sua ombra tutt’intorno al podere.

Io ero una peste, buono solo a inciampare, a cadere,

a frignare. Ma oggi

è mio padre che barcolla qui

dietro me, e non vuole andar via.

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