I had to go back to the UK unexpectedly last week. Poking around my old room at Mum’s, looking for something to read, I found the poetry anthology I’d studied for A level English. In it was a poem by R.S Thomas which I’d been trying to find for ages. A while ago Poetry Chum and I had discussed poems which had sparked our interest in poetry or had held a special meaning for us.
This was my poem. At the time of the conversation I couldn’t remember what it was called or who it was by. I could remember vaguely what it was about but how it had made me feel was still very vivid.
I was sure it had something to do with Wales – I was correct. R.S Thomas was a Welsh clergyman and a poet. His writing reflected the difficult living in the welsh hills, the unforgiving landscape and the tough people it moulded.
In the anthology there is a black and white photo of Thomas outside a stone chapel. It’s a bleak image. His face is craggy and weathered. He’s dressed in the black uniform of a church minister and a duffel coat.
The photo looks like it would have been black and white even if it had been taken in colour.
I also thought the poem had something to do with farming…or maybe a farmer…or the earth. This last idea I thought might have been influenced by Poetry Chum’s choice of poem. The poem she picked was Digging by Seamus Heaney.
But I was right, the poem IS about farmers; 3 to be exact. I assume they are related because they have the same surname and they live in the same house.
3 farmers and a young girl who lives in the house with them.
The poem made me feel uncomfortable. The people in the poem were not nice. The thought of being stuck up a bleak welsh hill, in a farmhouse, with these people was creepy – not safe inside or outside. I’ve been up a welsh hill in spring – it’s a cold, damp place. There is little comfort. There is nowhere to hide from the relentless weather.
A week of surveying and collecting samples for a biology field trip was more than enough time for me in this environment, never mind a lifetime.
The sense of isolation in the poem made me anxious and made me scared for the girl. Rereading the poem, my reaction was the same. Simple and straightforward language – no room for embellishment up a welsh hill.
On the Farm
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.
Poetry 1900 to 1975. Ed. George Macbeth Ronald Stuart Thomas 1913 – 2000
20 years (give or take a few) since I first read this poem and I still love it.
Which poem or book has left a long lasting impression on you?