The Bright Field

by R. S. Thomas


Original Language English

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

-- from Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds, Edited by Neil Astley / Edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I first discovered R. S. Thomas's work just a few years ago, and I am still surprised by how much his simple, direct language rings in my mind.

This poem, for example. It moves through each phrase, saying nothing more than is needed, then steps into the next line. It conveys an easy patience, no rush, no ornament. You can almost hear the poet's aging voice, a slow, dark syrup.

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it...


This seems to be a poem about being present enough, still enough, grateful enough to really encounter the gift each moment offers to us.

We can be so busy and purposeful that we glance but don't see, that we brush past without truly touching and feeling.

I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.


It takes courage to really meet the living moment, and more than a bit of eccentricity.

I remember how I used to go for long walks through the neighborhoods of Eugene, Oregon and, later, Boulder, Colorado, and I would just pause to really look at an interesting bush, or crane my neck up to look at the silhouetted leaves of a tree at twilight. And I would just go into rapture. That moment, that place, that light, that moment of recognition. I would lose myself in the wholeness of the perfect intersecting moment.

I have had my share of strange looks, of course. Once a pickup truck pulled up while I was staring up at a majestic cottonwood in wonder, and the man rolled down his window, stuck his head out, and asked, "What is it? What do you see?" I had no words. "It's the tree," was all I managed. "It's beautiful." He muttered something to his wife in the passenger seat, and they drove away laughing. They clearly thought I was high on something. But, as I've said elsewhere, I've never done drugs, and never even had a glass of wine or beer. I was just drunk on that moment.

This is really an important key, giving ourselves permission to be odd enough to pause and to really see where that magically whole sense of life is just waiting for us to notice.

It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.


In the busyness of our days and the importance of our life goals, we imagine that there is nothing there. At most it is a pretty scene or a pleasant moment. But it is intangible. It doesn't give us anything. It doesn't pay the bills or bring us love. It doesn't resolve an argument or advance our careers. Such moments seem nice, but ephemeral.

But that's when we aren't really looking. We glance but we don't really see. We aren't really pausing to notice the radiance and life right there, right in front of us, in that field, in that tree, in that corner of the room.

When we really allow our attention to shift, when we let go of that constant "hurrying to a receding future" or "hankering after an imagined past," and allow ourselves to really settle into where we actually are and the encounters of this moment, the world opens up, it glows, and so do we. In the smallest space of time that we call right now, we discover the immensity of eternity waiting there for us, shining. And we are somehow gathered up into a wholeness we always hungered for but didn't fully believe existed.

Stillness and seeing, eccentricity and ecstasy. And a walk in a field. That's a good spiritual formula, if you ask me.



Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds R. S. Thomas: Selected Poems R. S. Thomas (Everyman Poetry) R. S. Thomas: Collected Poems 1945-1990
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The Bright Field