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Saturday, 27 October 2012

R. S. Thomas: On the Farm

File:Trawsallt approach from the north - - 479787.jpg

Trawsallt approach from the north. Typical rough moorland terrain, on the approach towards the cairn of Trawsallt from the north. The forest roads of the Hafod estate can be used to reach this point: photo by Nigel Brown, 3 September 2005

There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.

There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.

Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.

There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?

I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.

And lastly there was the girl:

Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life's dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000): On the Farm, from The Bread of Truth (1963)

File:Across the Camddwr Valley near Maesglas farm, Ceredigion - - 1517943.jpg

Across the Camddwr Valley near Maesglas farm, Ceredigion. The edge of the very extensive Tywi Forest is on the skyline towards Soar-y-Mynydd: photo by Roger Kidd, 14 September 2009

File:About as remote as it gets. - - 741160.jpg

About as remote as it gets. A nameless (on the map at least) cottage under Banc Sychnant, presumably a hafod (summer dwelling) for one of the farms in the valley: photo by Chris Denny, 3 August 2006


TC said...

Also by this marvelous poet:

R. S. Thomas: The Moor

R. S. Thomas: Fuel

And too there is a curious "virtual reading", or animated video, in which we see R. S. Thomas, the preacher poet, old, appearing to be saying aloud, as from the Other Side, this startling poem, writ when not quite so old, about atavism, inbreeding and the mysterious bliss of a divinity curiously discovered in the earthly illumination of a girl's face:

"Opening his slow lips like a snail..."

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

There was R.S. Thomas. What shall I say?

Anthony Thwaite: “From the first, the poems of R.S. Thomas have been challenging statements about isolation, written in isolation.”


From my father my strong heart,
My weak stomach.
From my mother the fear.

From my sad country the shame.

To my wife all I have
Saving only the love
That is not mine to give.

To my one son the hunger.

Wooden Boy said...

And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.

Knife: from the definite to the indefinite article; from a someway manageable item to the rough work of the imagination.

To note that epiphany with the words, "shrill sentence", this is a great thing.

TC said...

About as remote as it gets. Rough work. In the distance a nameless cottage. What shall I say?

Hazen said...

Isolation and inbreeding. We weren’t made for this.

‘The shrill sentence: God is love.’ What an indictment of a belief system, yet one that Thomas professed to profess. This needs pondering.

Those lonely cottages remind me of news items of late that describe the cruelties of solitary confinement and the psychological damage that results.

TC said...

Well... shifting the set about just a bit, can we imagine Dai Puw and the other Puws and the girl translated to some lonely farm in a desolate backwater of the Pampas?

A strange Borgesian thought, which seems to have occurred to the Argentine poet Gerardo Gambolini.

En la granja

Estaba Dai Puw. Era un inútil.
Lo ponían en los campos a cortar nabos
y le quitaban el cuchillo cuando volvía
al anochecer con una sonrisa
como un tajo en la cara.

Estaba Llew Puw, y era un inútil.
Cada atardecer, después de arar
con el tractor grande, se sentaba en su silla
a mirar el descuidado jardín incandescente,
abriendo sus labios lentos lo mismo que un caracol.

También estaba Huw Puw. ¿Qué puedo decir?
Lo oía silbar y silbar en los setos,
como si el invierno
no fuese nunca más a abandonar esos campos
y todos los árboles se hubieran deformado.

Y por último estaba la muchacha:
hermosa por algún hechizo de la bestia.
Su rostro blanco era el farol
con el que leían en el oscuro libro de la vida
la frase estridente: Dios es amor.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Another place of w's
of whys
out in the open.
A fire garden burns.
Once with little horses
with deer
also bones
marked by long-standing
circles and squares.
I went there
in my dream.
I saw my earring.
Also, someone's face.
Let's just say
the name had some
zig-zagging lines in it.
Led me to the top of the hill.
It was another heap
instead of trees.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The Teletubbies, Their Mummies

Thankfully, behind that hill
far from their farm
the grass so green so green.
So short. Their long lives.
In the short grass. In the past
they were herders. Rode the deer
freestyle. Even a baby
was taught to grab hold
for the long distances
in winter in summer
past hillocks a bit too round
to be natural. Fire, a signal.

Hazen said...

This darker aspect of Thomas gives off its own luminescence. He is very much to my liking, here and the other places that you have suggested. For my ear, his ‘strident sentence’ is much closer in meaning to “condemnation” (‘condena’ or ‘sentencia’) that to 'phrase' (frase), though it has something of the latter meaning too.

TC said...

Well, the idea of divinely imposed "sentences" (= hellfires) makes me a bit queasy too, Hazen.

Introducing the a possibility of a forcible (speaking of imposition), even perhaps fanciful, re-location for the poet/s dark/bright little epiphany, I suppose I should have specified the Borges tale I had in mind. It's set in a landscape not totally unlike Thomas's, and also addresses atavism, folk religion, and a girl:

El Evangelio según Marcos / The Gospel according to Mark

I've found the act of translating (substituting) not only languages but locations sweeps away much of the local residue in a work, revealing what of substance -- if indeed anything -- remains beneath. I guess the term "universal" first comes to mind, but that's probably old-age diction-thinking; the comparable term now would be "global", which is associated with corporate branding and marketing, a robotization of the human, definitely not the same thing at all.

Dalriada said...

Well there is no cosy resolution or closure to the poem, whether one believes in God or not. “Shrill” certainly raises the pitch at the end from the earthy, but it reinforces the danger of the girl’s situation ... as an invocation to ward off “evil” influences. An uneasy “balance”then ... an ongoing struggle in which good or God has to struggle with the bestial in perpetuum. A kind of hell, yes. A tale worthy of Poe ....... A horror story.