R. S. Thomas

from The Stones of the Field

A Labourer

    Who can tell his years, for the winds have stretched
    So tight the skin on the bare racks of bone
    That his face is smooth, inscrutable as stone?
    And when he wades in the brown bilge of earth
    Hour by hour, or stoops to pull
    the reluctant swedes, who can read the look
    In the colourless eyes, as his back comes straight
    Like an old tree lightened of the snow's weight?
    Is there love there, or hope, or any thought
    For the frail form broken beneath his tread,
    And the sweet pregnancy that yields his bread?

The Rising of Glyndwr

    Thunder-browed and shaggy-throated
    All the men were there,
    And the women with the hair
    That is the raven's and the rook's despair.
    Winds awoke, and vixen-footed
    Firelight prowled the glade;
    The stars were hooded and the moon afraid
    To vex the darkness with her yellow braid.
    Then he spoke, and anger kindled
    In each brooding eye;
    Swords and spears accused the sky,
    The woods resounded with a bitter cry.
    Beasts gave tongue and barn-owls hooted,
    Every branch grew loud
    With the menace of that crowd,
    That thronged the dark, huge as a thundercloud.


A Peasant

    Iago Prytherch his name, though, be it allowed
    Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills,
    Who pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud.
    Docking mangels, chipping the green skin
    From the yellow bones with a half-witted grin
    Of satisfaction, or churning the crude earth
    To a stiff sea of clouds that glint in the wind -
    So are his days spent, his spittled mirth
    Rarer than the sun that cracks the cheeks
    Of the gaunt sky perphaps once a week.
    And then at night seehim fixed in his chair
    Motionless, except when he leans to gob in the fire.
    there is something frightening in the vacancy of his mind.
    His clothes, sour with years of sweat
    And animal contact, shock the refined,
    But affected, sense with their stark naturalness.
    Yet this is your prototype, who, season by season
    Against seige of rain and thw wind's attrition,
    Preserves his stock, an impregnable fortress
    Not to be stormed even in death's confusion.
    remember him, then, for he, too, is a winner of wars,
    Enduring like a tree under the curious stars.

From An Acre of Land
The Old Language

    England, what have you done to make the speech
    My fathers used a stranger to my lips,
    An offence to the ear, a shackle on the tongue
    That would fit new thoughts to an abiding tune?
    Answer me now. The workshop where they wrought
    Stands idle, and thick dust covers their tools.
    The blue metal of streams, the copper and gold
    Seams in the wood are all unquarried; the leaves'
    Intricate filigree falls, and who shall renew
    Its brisk pattern? When spring wakens the hearts
    Of the young children to sing, what song shall be theirs?

The Welsh Hill Country

    Too far for you to see
    The fluke and foot-rot and the fat maggot
    Gnawing the skin from the small bones,
    The sheep are grazing at Bwlch-y-Fedwen,
    Arranged romantically in the usual manner
    On a bleak background of bald stone.
    Too far for you to see
    The moss and the mould on the cold chimneys,
    The nettles growing through the cracked doors,
    The houses stand empty at Nant-yr-Eira,
    There are holes in the roofs that are thatched with sunlight,
    And the fields are reverting to the bare moor.
    Too far, too far to see
    The set of his eyes and the slow pthisis
    Wasting his frame under the ripped coat,
    There's a man still farming at Ty'n-y-Fawnog,
    Contributing grimly to the accepted pattern,
    The embryo music dead in his throat.


The Gap in the Hedge

    That man, Prytherch, with the torn cap,
    I saw him often, framed in the gap
    Between two hazels with his sharp eyes,
    Bright as thorns, watching the sunrise
    Filling the valley with its pale yellow
    Light, where the sheep and the lambs went haloed
    With grey mist lifting from the dew.
    Or was it a likeness that the twigs drew
    With bold pencilling upon that bare
    Piece of sky? For he's still there
    At early morning, when the light is right
    And I look up suddenly at a bird's flight.

Welsh Landscape

    To live in Wales is to be conscious
    At dusk of the spilled blood
    That went into the making of the wild sky,
    Dyeing the immaculate rivers
    In all their courses.
    It is to be aware,
    Above the noisy tractor
    And hum of the machine
    Of strife in the strung woods,
    Vibrant with sped arrows.
    You cannot live in the present,
    At least not in Wales.
    There is the language for instance,
    The soft consonants
    Strange to the ear.
    There are cries in the dark at night
    As owls answer the moon,
    And thick ambush of shadows,
    Hushed at the fields' corners.
    There is no present in Wales,
    And no future;
    There is only the past,
    Brittle with relics,
    Wind-bitten towers and castles
    With sham ghosts;
    Mouldering quarries and mines;
    And an impotent people,
    Sick with inbreeding,
    Worrying the carcase of an old song.

From Song at the Year's Turning  

Lament for Prytherch

    When I was young, when I was young!
    Were you ever young, Prytherch, a rich farmer:
    Cows in the byre, sheep in the pen. A brown egg under each hen,
    The barns oozing corn like honey?
    You are old now; time's geometry
    Upon your face by which we tell
    Your sum of years has with sharp care
    Conspired and crossed your brow with grief.
    Your heart that is dry as a dead leaf
    Undone by frosts's cruel chemistry
    Clings in vain to the bare bough
    Where once in April a bird sang.

A Welshman to any Tourist

    We've nothing vast to offer you, no deserts
    Except the waste of thought
    Forming from mind erosion;
    No canyons where the pterodactyl's wing
    Falls like a shadow.
    the hills are fine, of course,
    Bearded with water to suggest age
    And pocked with cavarns,
    One being Arthur's dormitory;
    He and his knights are the bright ore
    That seams our history,
    But shame has kept them late in bed.

from Poetry for Supper
The Country Clergy

    I see them working in old rectories
    By the sun's light, by candlelight,
    Venerable men, their black cloth
    A little dusty, a little green
    With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
    Ripening over so many prayers,
    Toppled into the same grave
    With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
    Memorial to their lonely thought
    In grey parishes; rather they wrote
    On men's hearts and in the minds
    Of young children sublime words
    Too soon forgotten. God in his time
    Or out of time will correct this.

From Tares
The Dark Well

    They see you as they see you,
    A poor farmer with no name,
    Ploughing cloudward, sowing the wind
    With squalls of gulls at the day's end.
    To me you are Prytherch, the man
    Who more than all directed my slow
    Charity where there was need.
    There are two hungers, hunger for bread
    And hunger of the uncouth soul
    For the light's grace. I have seen both,
    And chosen for an indulgent world's
    Ear the story of one whose hands
    Have bruised themselves on the locked doors
    Of life; whose heart, fuller than mine
    Of gulped tears, is the dark well
    From which to draw, drop after drop,
    The terrible poetry of his kind.

From Not That He Brought Flowers


    There are places in Wales I don't go:
    Reservoirs that are the subconcious
    Of a people, troubled far down
    With gravestones, chapels, villages even;
    The serenity of their expression
    Revolts me, it is a pose
    For strangers, a watercolour's appeal
    To the mass, instead of the poem's
    Harsher conditions. There are the hills,
    Too; gardens gone under the scum
    Of the forests; and the smashed faces
    Of the farms with the stone trickle
    Of their tears down the hills' side.
    Where can I go, then, from the smell
    Of decay, from the putrefying of a dead
    Nation? I have walked the shore
    For an hour and seen the English
    Scavenging among the remains
    Of our culture, covering the sand
    Like the tide and, with the roughness
    Of the tide, elbowing our language
    Into the grave that we have dug for it.

from Welsh Airs
Saunders Lewis

    And he dared them;
    Dared them to grow old and bitter
    As he. He kept his pen clean
    By burying it in their fat
    Flesh. He was ascetic and Wales
    His diet. He lived off the harsh fare
    Of her troubles, worn yet heady
    At moments with the poets' wine.
    A recluse, then; himself
    His hermitage? Unhabited
    He moved among us; would have led
    To rebellion. Small as he was
    He towered, the trigger of his mind
    Cocked, ready to let fly with his scorn.

Farm Child

Look at this village boy, his head is stuffed 
With all the nests he knows, his pockets with flowers, 
Snail-shells and bits of glass, the fruit of hours 
Spent in the fields by thorn and thistle tuft. 
Look at his eyes, see the harebell hiding there; 
Mark how the sun has freckled his smooth face 
Like a finch's egg under that bush of hair 
That dares the wind, and in the mixen now 
Notice his poise; from such unconscious grace 
Earth breeds and beckons to the stubborn plough.

Song for Gwydion

When I was a child and the soft flesh was forming 
Quietly as snow on the bare boughs of bone, 
My father brought me trout from the green river 
From whose chill lips the water song had flown.
Dull grey their eyes, the beautiful, blithe garland 

Of stipples faded, as light shocked the brain; 
They were the first sweet sacrifice I tasted, 
A young god, ignorant of the blood's stain. 

Farm Wife.

                            Hers is the clean apron, good for fire 
                           Or lamp to embroider, as we talk slowly 
                          In the long kitchen, while the white dough 
                              Turns to pastry in the great oven, 
                              Sweetly and surely as hay making 
                            n a June meadow; hers are the hands,
                             Humble with milking, but still now 
                            In her wide lap as though they heard 
                               A quiet music, hers is the voice 
                            That coaxes time back to the shadows 

                                    In the rooms corners. 

                                        O, hers is all 
                              This strong body, the safe island 
                           Where men may come, sons and lovers, 
                               Daring the cold seas of her eyes.

The Woman.

                             So beautiful - God himself quailed 
                           At her approach; the long body curved 
                                      Like the horizon. 
                                 Why had he made Her so? 
                                 How would it be, she said, 
                             Leaning towards him, if, instead of 
                              Quarrelling over it, we divided it 
                                        Between us? 
                                 You can have all the credit 
                        For its invention, if you will leave the ordering 
                                        Of it to me. 
                                     He looked into her 
                              Eyes and saw far down the bones 
                           Of the generations that would navigate 
                            By those great stars, but the pull of it 
                                       Was too much. 
                            Yes, he thought, give me their minds' 
                         Tribute, and what they do with their bodies 
                                     Is not my concern. 
                                 He put his hand in his side 
                            And drew out the thorn for the letting 
                         Of the ordained blood and touched her with 
                                       It. Go, he said. 
                               They shall come to you for ever 
                   With their desire, and you shall bleed for them in return. 


                             Your love is dead, lady, your love is dead;
                                      Dribbles no sounds
                          From his stopped lips, through swift underground
                                      Spurts his wild hair.

                             Your love is dead, lady, your love is dead;
                                        Faithless he lies
                            Deaf to your call, though shades of his eyes
                                    Break through and stare.

The Cure 

But what to do? Doctors in verse 
Being scarce now, most poets 
Are their own patients, compelled to treat 
Themselves first, their complaint being 
Peculiar always. Consider, you, 
Whose rough hands manipulate 
The fine bones of a sick culture, 
What areas of that infirm body 
Depend solely on a poet's cure. 

The View from the Window 

Like a painting it is set before one, 
But less brittle, ageless ; these colours 
Are renewed daily with variations 
Of light and distance that no painter 
Achieves or suggests. Then there is movement, 
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises 
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps 
A black mood ; but gold at evening 
To cheer the heart. All through history 
The great brush has not rested, 
Nor the paint dried ; yet what eye, 
Looking coolly, or, as we now, 
Through the tears' lenses, ever saw 
This work and it was not finished ? 

Cynddylan on a Tractor 

Ah, you should see Cynddylan on a tractor.
Gone the old look that yoked him to the soil,
He's a new man now, part of the machine,
His nerves of metal and his blood oil.
The clutch curses, but the gears obey
His least bidding, and lo, he's away
Out of the farmyard, scattering hens.
Riding to work now as a great man should,
He is the knight at arms breaking the fields'
Mirror of silence, emptying the wood
Of foxes and squirrels and bright jays.
The sun comes over the tall trees
Kindling all the hedges, but not for him
Who runs his engine on a different fuel.
And all the birds are singing, bills wide in vain,
As Cynddylan passes proudly up the lane. 

Song at the Year's Turning

        Shelley dreamed it. Now the dream decays.
        The props crumble; the familiar ways
        Are stale with tears trodden underfoot.
        The heart's flower withers at the root.
        Bury it then, in history's sterile dust.
        The slow years shall tame your tawny lust.
        Love deceived him; what is there to say
        The mind brought you by a better way
        To this despair? Lost in the world's wood
        You cannot stanch the bright menstrual blood.
        The earth sickens; under naked boughs
        The frost comes to barb your broken vows.
        Is there blessing? Light's peculiar grace
        In cold splendour robes this tortured place
        For strange marriage. Voices in the wind
        Weave a garland where a mortal sinned.
        Winter rots you; who is there to blame?
        The new grass shall purge you in its flame.


        And in the book I read:
        God is love. But lifting
        my head, I do not find it
        so. Shall I return
        to my book and between
        print, wander an air
        heavy with the scent
        of this one word? Or not trust
        language, only the blows that
        life gives me, wearing them
        like those red tokens with which
        an agreement is sealed?

The Empty Church

        They laid this stone trap
        for him, enticing him with candles,
        as though he would come like some huge moth
        out of the darkness to beat there.
        Ah, he had burned himself
        before in the human flame
        and escaped, leaving the reason
        torn. He will not come any more
        to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
        striking my prayers on a stone
        heart? Is it in hope one
        of them will ignite yet and throw
        on its illumined walls the shadow
        of someone greater than I can understand?


        It will not always be like this,
        The air is windless, a few last
        Leaves adding their decoration
        To the trees' shoulders, braiding the cuffs
        Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening
        In the lawns' mirror. Having looked up
        From the day's chores, pause a minute,
        Let the mind take its photograph
        Of the bright scene, something to wear
        Against the heart in the long cold.

Peasant Greeting

        No speech; the raised hand affirms
        All that is left unsaid,
        By the mute tongue and the unmoistened lips:
        The land's patience and a tree's
        Knotted endurance and
        The heart's doubt whether to curse or bless,
        All packed into a single gesture.
        The knees crumble to the downward pull
        Of the harsh earth, the eyes,
        Fuddled with coldness, have no skill to smile.
        Life's bitter jest is hollow, mirthless he slips
        To his long grave under the wave of the wind,
        That breaks continually on the brittle ear.


        Suddenly after long silence
        he has become voluble
        He addresses me from a myriad
        directions with the fluency
        of water, the articulateness
        of green leaves; and in the genes,
        too, the components
        of my existence. The rock,
        so long speechless, is the library
        of his poetry. He sings to me
        in the chain-saw, writes
        with the surgeon's hand
        on the skins's parchment messages
        of healing. The weather
        is his mind's turbine
        driving the earth's bulk round
        and around on its remedial
        journey. I have no need to despair; as at
        some second Pentecost
        of a Gentile, I listen to the things
        round me: weeds, stones, instruments,
        the machine itself, all
        speaking to me in the vernacular
        of the purposes of One who is.

What Help?

        What cure for this, Lord?
        And as you are compassion
        do not say: "You brought it
        upon yourselves". Were we sound
        at the beginning? Was there
        a moment the perfect man
        emerged, spun like glass
        for you to see yourself
        in? Was his replication
        his undoing? Did any good come
        from committees, from conferences
        of the double-talkers? Why are we
        here, if your kingdom
        is not of this world? Can we
        believe it is in the heart
        of the banker, leaving
        his unsigned cheque-book
        for the hungry to play with?
        Now time blows out
        of the empty tomb and the poor
        are without a collar
        to turn up. The easterners
        are wiser and no better.
        In the west, small as
        the cross is, there is still room
        for the gamblers and speculators
        to play high in its shadow.


        Being unwise enough to have married her
        I never knew when she was not acting.
        "I love you," she would say; I heard the audiences
        Sigh. "I hate you"; I could never be sure
        They were still there. She was lovely. I
        Was only the looking-glass she made up in.
        I husbanded the rippling meadow
        Of her body. Their eyes grazed nightly upon it.
        Alone now, on the brittle platform
        Of herself she is playing her last rôle.
        It is perfect. Never in all her career
        Was she so good. And yet the curtain
        Has fallen. My charmer, come out from behind
        It to take the applause. See, I am clapping too.

A Blackbird Singing

        It seems wrong that this bird,
        Black, bold, a suggestion of dark
        Places about it, there yet should come
        Such rich music, as though the notes'
        Ore were changed to a rare metal
        At one touch of that bright bill.
        You have heard it often, alone at your desk
        In a green April, your mind drawn
        Away from its work by sweet disturbance
        Of the mild evening outside your room.
        A slow singer, but loading each phrase
        With history's overtones, love, joy
        And grief learned by his dark tribe
        In other orchards and passed on
        Instinctively as they are now,
        But fresh always with new tears.

Ap Huw's Testament

        There are four verses to put down
        For the four people in my life,
        Father, mother, wife,
        And the one child. Let me begin
        With her of the immaculate brow
        My wife; she loves me. I know how.
        My mother gave me the breast's milk
        Generously, but grew mean after,
        Envying me my detached laughter.
        My father was a passionate man,
        Wrecked after leaving the sea
        In her love's shallows. He grieves in me.
        What shall I say of my boy,
        Tall, fair? He is young yet;
        Keep his feet free of the world's net.


        I praise you because I envy your ability to
        See these things -- the blind hands
        Of the aged combing sunlight
        For pity; the starved fox and
        The obese pet; the way the world
        Digests itself, and a thin flame
        Scours. The youth enters
        The brothel, the girl enters
        The nunnery, and a bell tolls.
        Viruses invade the blood.
        On the smudged empires the dust
        Lies, and in the libraries
        Of the poets. The flowers wither
        On love's grave. This is what 
        Life is, and on it your eye sets 
        Tearless, and the dark 
        Is dear to you as the light.

The Coming

                                    And God held in his hand
                                   a small globe. Look, he said. 
                                    The son looked. Far off, 
                                       as through water, 
                                           he saw
                                    a scorched land of fierce
                                    colour. The light burned 
                                     there;crusted buildings
                                   cast their shadows; a bright
                                        serpent, a river
                                     uncoiled itself,radiant 
                                         with slime. 
                                          On a bare
                                    hill a bare tree saddened
                                      the sky. Many people
                                     held out their thin arms 
                                     To it, as though waiting
                                      for a vanished April
                                     to return to its crossed
                                    boughs. The son watched
                                  them. Let me go there, he said