A Marriage by R. S. Thomas explores a relationship over fifty years, and its bittersweet end. The poem focuses on how quickly love passes, a lifetime never seeming enough.
A Marriage by R. S. Thomas focuses on love and how love can endure over decades of life. Yet, at some point in everyone’s life, death will come and end all human connections. It is this moment of death that Thomas focuses on within the poem, depicting Death as a device that finally ends his lifelong relationship. Time passes incredibly quickly in the poem, suggesting that even with all the time they have spent together, it still seems too short for Thomas, wanting more time with his lover.
You can read the full poem here.
Thomas splits A Marriage into 21 lines, one single stanza. There is no rhyme scheme within the poem, but due to enjambment and a short line length there is certainly a sense of rhythm.
A key technique used by Thomas in A Marriage is enjambment. In using this, lines flow seamlessly on to one another, allowing the poem to pick up speed and contain a sense of rhythm. Also, the use of enjambement could reflect the speed of time passing, the difference between youth and 50 years later being but a line, enjambement connecting the two periods.
Another technique that Thomas uses is direct speech. By quoting Death, who uses an indicative command, there is no way to get around his desires. In only showing this one word from Death, Thomas suggests the absolute certainty it conveys, the use of the indicative and the single word compounding this sense of his lover meeting her unalterable end.
A Marriage Thomas
A Marriage begins by focusing on the plural pronoun of ‘We’. This poem is framed as a love poem, exploring the relationship, indeed A Marriage, between the poet and his love. By beginning with this pronoun, the poem instantly takes on connotations of togetherness, the state of being close to one another the primary focus of the poem. Everything that comes after is framed through this first line, ‘We met’. In many ways, it seems like Thomas’ life begins after this moment, ‘We met’, and everything else came after. Indeed, considering Thomas frames his life through this relationship, it is understandable why he begins his poem in this way.
The focus on a ‘shower / of bird notes’ is beautiful imagery, connecting their love with ideas of nature’s beauty. The harmonic ‘bird-notes’ are an image of the harmony of nature infused into their relationship. By defining their relationship through the beauty of nature, it takes on a suggestion of honesty and purity – Thomas is attempting to emphasise the perfection of their time together. By beginning with ‘bird-notes’, and ending with ‘a feather’, Thomas contains their whole relationship within these natural terms. He furthers the beauty of love, connecting it to nature.
Between the third line and the fourth, ‘Fifty years passed’, time speeding by as they spend their life together. Although ‘Fifty years’ is indeed a huge amount of time, to ‘love’ is is but a ‘moment’, with Thomas suggesting that their time spent together has been enjoyable, beautiful and memorable. ‘Fifty years’ without boredom or unhappiness, their relationship being furthered as incredibly beautiful.
Thomas also extends the idea that ‘a world in servitude to time’, defining humanity by their ‘servitude to time’. Of course, considering that everyone’s life is finite, ‘time’ becomes an incredibly important currency. Thomas decides to spend his life with his lover, using his time on earth for love.
These lines focus on the speed in which time goes by. The seventh line focuses on his lover’s age, ‘she was young’, being towards the beginning of their relationship. He ‘kissed with my eyes closed’, beginning the kiss when she is in this state of life. When he ‘opened them’, it was ‘on her wrinkles’, life passing them both by in what only seemed like the length of a kiss. This line is engineered through enjambement, allowing the words to flow into one another – reflecting the quick passing of time.
Here Thomas explores the arrival of death, the act of dying taking up the rest of A Marriage. Although their life together only seemed to span a few lines, the pain at losing his lover takes up the rest of the poem.
Death is incredibly direct and infallible in speech, the assertive use of the imperative in ‘Come’ compounding the sense of certainty. It is his lover’s time, she must go with him. The act of dying is displayed through the metaphor ‘the last dance’, the pain and suffering removed from the act. ‘Dance’ presents dying as something beautiful, a rightful conclusion to a life enjoyed.
Thomas again draws from the semantics of nature to define the beauty of his lover, suggesting that she ‘had done everything / with a bird’s grace’. There is a certainty to Thomas’ writing, he knows he is losing her but he is thankful for what they have had all these years. The link of nature and human within these lines is beautiful, Thomas never doubting the perfection of his relationship.
The final lines use enjambment to rush towards a conclusion. It seems that the act of dying is something Thomas wants to simultaneously acknowledge, and completely jump over. The racing last lines speed through to the conclusion of the poem. The final word, focusing on ‘feather’, presents the insignificance of life. Although this life held so much richness, in the end it weighted no more than ‘a feather’. Although some could argue this is depressing, I would suggest that Thomas is implying the opposite here. While in the grand scheme of things a life doesn’t seem to matter that much, Thomas and his lover made the absolute most of everything, and he can be happy with what they achieved. Of course he wants more time with his lover, but that’s not how life works – one ‘sigh’ and things come to their end.