Within the twenty-one lines of this mysterious poem, Thomas alludes to a single man’s struggles and realization that he’s been misled throughout his life. Commonly, the speaker of ‘Here’ is interpreted as a soldier. Perhaps, a soldier of the Second World War. One possible interpretation is that this individual might have been consumed by nationalism and idealism, then only later in life, regret the violence he was a part of.
‘Here’ by R.S. Thomas conveys a speaker’s direct and harrowing regret for the violence he committed.
In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker declares that now, he’s a man, and, like a tree, he can look back over his life and see the footsteps that led him to where he is now. This is not a process that he found to be rewarding. When analyzing his life, he discovers that he was misled by another person or group. Now, he’s been left with a great deal of blood on his hands and the inability to escape from his guilt. There’s nothing he can do to get away from the hurt he’s feeling or change the life he’s been living.
You can read the full poem here.
Throughout this poem, Thomas engages with themes of:
- Regret: the speaker experiences a great deal of regret throughout the poem. Beginning in the third and fourth stanzas, the speaker clarifies how he feels about the blood on his hands and the stains he believed he had escaped from. He never reveals what it is he feels guilty about but readers can assume that he is responsible for injuring or in some other way harming people, perhaps in battle.
- Violence: the speaker has grown out of a certain period in his life; one that the poet suggests was more youthful. As a man, he is looking back on his life and realizing that what he was led to believe was incorrect. He was misled by an unknown person or persons into committing acts that I’ve left him with blood on his hands. Commonly, the speaker is interpreted as a soldier who was convinced that joining a specific war was right.
Structure and Form
‘Here’ by R.S. Thomas is a seven-stanza poem divided into sets of three lines, known as tercets. These tercets are written in a simple rhyme scheme of AAA BBB, and so on, using different end sounds for each stanza. The poet also uses other examples of repetition, which can be explored below, in order to provide the poem with structure.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example,
- Juxtaposition: occurs when the poet places two contrasting or different ideas or images next to one another. For example, the description of the speaker as a “man” and as “like a tree.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “tree” and “top” in stanza two and “swift satellites show” in stanza six.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of stanza four.
- Simile: a comparison between two unlike things that uses either “like” or “as.” For example, “I am like a tree” in stanza two.
Stanzas One and Two
I am a man now.
Pass your hand over my brow.
You can feel the place where the brains grow.
I am like a tree,
From my top boughs I can see
The footprints that led up to me.
In the poem’s first stanza, the speaker declares that he’s grown into a man. The second stanza adds to this, describing him as “like a tree.” He has grown to the limit of his ability, and if one passes their hand over his brow, his wisdom and new knowledge as a fully grown man are palpable. You can feel “where the brains grow.” This suggests that his development is complete and genuine.
Within the second stanza, the speaker describes how, like a tree, he can look from the tip of his branches, or from where he is in his life now as a fully grown man, and see the “footprints” that led him to where he is now. He’s capable of looking back over his life and saying all the events he engaged in and actions he took that made him into the person he is.
Stanzas Three and Four
There is blood in my veins
Is this where I was misled?
There’s a distinct change in the speaker’s attitude between the second, third, and fourth stanzas. He describes the blood in his veins having escaped from any “stain” that other people were affected by. This is likely a metaphor for various difficulties that would phase if you out of life, or could even refer to the true violence that could take someone’s life before they reach the point where the speaker is now.
The third line of the third stanza is one of the more unusual parts of the poem. The poet writes the line “contracted in so many loins.” Here, the poet could be speaking about sexually transmitted diseases or, more likely; they are using the image of one’s “loins” to speak again about manhood. This would connect the third stanza to the first in a very real way.
Speaker knows that he has escaped “the stain” that other people did not and that he’s a grown man, capable of looking back on his life. But, as he does so, he realizes that his hands are red with the “blood of so many dead.” He feels surprised and fearful and can’t help but question how he got where he is.
At the end of the fourth stanza, he asks if this is where he was misled. This suggests that he’s been fighting for a cause or maintaining a specific kind of moral judgment throughout his life that he’s now questioning. He’s done things in his life that he feels confused about as a man capable of analyzing his own actions.
Stanzas Five and Six
Why are my hands this way
The clock of my whole being is slow,
The next stanza contains two more questions. His hands “will not do” what he says. This suggests a difference between what he knows he should do and what he actually has to do. The life that he’s a part of is one that’s hard to escape. He feels lost and unsure what he should do next. Plus, when he turns to God, it seems as though he does not “hear” when the speaker prays. Religion does not provide the speaker with the solace he feels it must provide others.
It’s possible that up until this point, the speaker had no need for religion in his life, and now that he feels guilt and fear in regard to what he’s done, he’s turning towards God and finding that he’s not there.
In the sixth stanza, the speaker’s feelings of loss, confusion, and fear, are intensified. He admits that he has nowhere to go and that even if he did have a place in mind, he’s being watched by “swift satellites.” The “clock” of his “whole being is slow.” He has slowed, mentally and physically, to a crawl.
This suggests that the speaker is paralyzed by the realizations he’s coming to about his life, and now that he’s analyzing the people he has around him, his attachment to religion, and the leaders he was perhaps misled by, he realizes that he has no one and nowhere to go. Plus, it’s likely he’s being watched at all times.
It is too late to start
I must stay here with my hurt.
It’s clear in the last stanza that the speaker is resigned to dealing with his “hurt” no matter the consequences. It’s too late for him to make any significant changes in his life. He has to stay with his “hurt” and contend with the moral consequences of his actions. The poem concludes without any clear idea of who this person is, why they are suffering, or what time period they live in.
The tone is direct and clear. The speaker does not flinch away from the difficulties he’s facing and the reality of the life he’s been living. He realizes that he’s been misled, and he is responsible for a great deal of loss.
The purpose is to describe a speaker’s moral quandary as he realizes that he has been misled throughout his life. The speaker has committed a series of violent acts that have left him with blood on his hands, for which he now feels guilty.
It is about a man and his realization that he’s been misled throughout his life. He’s committed brutal and violent acts believing that he was doing the right thing. This speaker is likely a soldier or someone who has been engaged in a violent conflict, and who is now regretting being part of a specific ideology.
R.S. Thomas who is born on March 29, 1913, in Cardiff, Wales. He worked as a poet and Anglican priest whose work is noted for its spirituality and nationalism. Today, many regarded him as one of the major English language poets in Europe in the 20th century.
Within this poem, Thomas leans heavily on allusion and the reader’s imagination in order to create the setting. Readers are provided with very few details in regard to the speaker within the seventh her sets of ‘Here.’ It is up to individuals’ imaginations to figure out who this person was and what kind of acts they are regretting.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider exploring some other R.S. Thomas poems. For example:
- ‘Welsh History’ – an image-rich depiction of the history of the Welsh people and their strength throughout times of strife and suffering.
- ‘A Peasant’ – presents an emblematic character of Thomas’s poetry called Iago Prytherch.
- ‘A Marriage’ – explores a relationship over fifty years and its bittersweet end. The poem focuses on how quickly love passes, a lifetime never seems enough.