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A Peasant

R.S. Thomas

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A Peasant by RS Thomas
Added by: Andrew Mayers
I chose this because it is short, straightforward and worth a reader’s attention. I hope the following helps you to appreciate something of what I get from it. Sorry if it seems obvious and patronising, but I personally would prefer to read comments that are detailed and specific rather than vague and gushing.

The man described is not intended to be the perfect example of humanity. He is “Just an ordinary man”, and Thomas goes to some lengths to emphasise his crudity: Iago Prytherch has “a half-witted grin”, “There is something frightening in the vacancy of his mind”, his clothes are “sour with years of sweat” and he spends his evenings “Motionless, except when he leans to gob in the fire.” In all these pieces of description Thomas takes care to describe Prytherch’s unpleasantness as unpleasantly as he can. He therefore uses words like “grin” and “gob” to underline the ugliness of what he is describing.

Despite all this however, it would be wrong, says Thomas, to reject Prytherch entirely because “this is your prototype” i.e. the will to survive in spite of all the discomforts and difficulties that are put in Prytherch’s way is the same stubborn refusal to give in as early man showed in his hostile environment.

There is no sentimental idealising of the peasant - he is seen in all his filth and stupidity but his determination and resolution are to be praised says Thomas. Throughout the poem Thomas has not allowed us to settle into a security of expectation for too long. The “ordinary man” is described at work in a quite extraordinary way as he “pens a few sheep”, not in some stone or hedged enclosure, but in “a gap of cloud”. Similarly, there are some deliberately unsettling consonant and vowel links with “grin”, “wind” and “mind”, and, despite the fact that much of the poem is rhymed, there is no matching rhyme for “hills”. There are two rhyming couplets (lines 4 & 5 and 17 & 18), but these only serve to emphasise the irregularity of the rest of the poem. It is in the last six lines, when the poet is developing his argument and turning the reader around to a different sort of consideration that the poem tightens its rhyming scheme, so that the argument is effectively locked in the poem.

The bleak hostility of the environment in which Prytherch works has been emphasised throughout the poem. The “Welsh hills” are “bald”, his activities in lines four and five sound ugly, harsh and dirty; the earth is “crude” and “the sun cracks the cheeks/ Of the gaunt sky perhaps once in a week.” This hostility is further emphasised by the use of military imagery: “the siege of rain and the wind’s attrition”. Any repugnance on our part is due to our “refined/ But affected sense”. In Prytherch’s ordinariness there is an extraordinariness which deserves recognition. His "stark naturalness" is the result of his simplicity of purpose, which allows for no subtleties of metaphysics or theology.

There is a deliberate ambiguity in "curious" in the last line. The stars are "curious" to Prytherch, reminding us that we may be in no better position to read the significance of the stars than a peasant. However, Prytherch is also "curious" to the stars. Thomas also underlines the enormity of Man's struggle by looking at Him through Prytherch from the stars, stating that they are "curious". This introduces a further level to the poem by suggesting the size and power of the elements surrounding Man, and by this means Thomas emphasises the size of the struggle Man has on his hands and the almost foolish courage required to combat such elements.

this is a tuely insiring peice!
Added by: Steven Mattiew
this poem has given me a different view of the welsh and its lands, as before it was unknown and know can be made so poetic by one poem. giving thought and meaning to the Welsh.

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