A Welsh Landscape by R. S. Thomas

A Welsh Landscape portrays R. S Thomas’ views about Wales and Welsh culture. Moreover, the poem depicts the people of Wales, based on this landscape portrait. R. S. Thomas focuses on negative aspects and develops a pessimistic look on Welshness.

The poem has one long stanza and all lines are similar in length. This provides a steady structure in order to accentuate the words and the meaning of the poem. A Welsh Landscape has a narrative form with straightforward language. The lyrical voice wishes to tell the history of Wales and leave a lasting effect on the reader. You can read the full poem here.

 

A Welsh Landscape Analysis

The poem starts by mentioning a characteristic of living in Wales. To live in Wales means to be aware of the “spilled blood”. This means that the people of Wales know that they have lost many men at war. Thus, “spilled blood” serves as a metaphor to talk about Welsh people and their history. This “spilled blood”, as part of their history, is everywhere around them: “That went into the making of the wild sky,/Dyeing the immaculate rivers/In all their courses”. The lyrical voice emphasizes the loss of life during battles and uses a tone of pessimism, uneasiness and pain.

Moreover, to “live in Wales” also means to be part of the rural Welsh tradition: “Above the noisy tractor/And hum of the machine/Of strife in the strung woods”. The lyrical voice portrays a rural imagery in order to accentuate the description of the daily life in Wales and the agricultural setting.

Yet, the poem shifts its tone and criticizes Wales hardly: “You cannot live in the present,/At least not in Wales”. The lyrical voice enumerates a succession of actions that cause this inability to live in the present. By using the second person (“you”), the lyrical voice is trying to gain the attention of the reader. First, the language is mentioned and appears to be strange, even for Welsh people: “The soft consonants/Strange to the ear”. The lyrical voice wants to emphasize that it is unfortunate that Welsh seems a strange language.

Everything seems strange, even for those who live there: “There are cries in the dark at night/As owls answer the moon,/And thick ambush of shadows/ Hushed at the fields’ corners.”. That is because there is no present, nor future in Wales, just the unforgettable events of the past (“There is no present in Wales,/And no future;/There is only the past”).

The past of Wales is filled with leftovers, with things that are defective and partial. Notice that the lyrical voice says that there is only past in Wales, filled with “Brittle with relics,/ Wind-bitten towers and castles/ With sham ghosts;”. There is an imagery of decay that expresses all the suffering from the past. Ans, instead of a glorious past, Wales has this poor images that portray the absence of a strong tradition. Most importantly, the lyrical voice emphasizes on the people: “And an impotent people,/Sick with inbreeding,/Worrying the carcase of an old song”. These final lines accentuate the lyrical voice’s worry for the inhabitants of Wales. They are described as “impotent”, “sick”, and worried about “an old song”.  This means that, instead of worrying about the present or future, the people of Wales are stuck in a painful past full of vestiges. The lyrical voice  has a pessimistic tone in these last lines as the people of Wales are described and it seems as there isn’t a hope for their country if they continue to be attached to their past in a painful way.

 

About R. S. Thomas

Ronald Stuart Thomas was born in 1913 and died in 2000. He was a Welsh poet and priest. R. S. Thomas was known for his nationalism and spirituality. Moreover, he is seen as one of the most important poets of modern Wales. He wrote about his people, his country and the roughness of rural life in Wales. The poet’s first poetry collection was published in 1946. His most famous work is A Peasant, a poem that depicts a typical rural worker in the hills of Wales.

R.S. Thomas’s poetry is often described as realistic and unforgiving, as he uses simple and short words to accentuate the content of the poems. Although the rural life is a frequent theme in his poetry, Thomas’s poetry also contains religious themes. His later works present spiritual questioning and cultural skepticism. R. S Thomas’s most recent poetry collections include Mass for Hard Times and No Truce with the Furies.

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  • Avatar juleslux says:

    I don’t think you understand “worrying” in this poem. It has nothing to do with anxiety (except perhaps as a secondary meaning), but describes the action of a dog with a bone…

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean, i’m afraid.

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