Mar 14 2012

R. S. Thomas – The Bright Field

Published by at 9:32 am under Poetry

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas

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

/ Photo by Heather Ruiz /

I am still new to the poetry of R. S. Thomas. I think I first discovered his work just a couple of 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.

Forget my commentary today. Reread the poem instead, slowly. Then step outside. See what is illuminated.

R. S. Thomas, R. S. Thomas poetry, Christian poetry R. S. Thomas

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline

R. S. Thomas is today considered to be one of the most important modern Welsh poets.

The son of sailor, Thomas led an unsettled life in early childhood, moving with his family from port town to port town.

As an adult, R. S. Thomas became an Anglican priest, serving rural Welsh farming communities.

Thomas had dabbled in poetry as in school, but it wasn’t until he met the painter Mildred E. Eldridge, the woman who would become his wife, that be began to take poetry seriously.

More poetry by R. S. Thomas

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “R. S. Thomas – The Bright Field”

  1. rena navonon 14 Mar 2012 at 11:21 am

    The miracle of the lit bush is appropriate now in Israel as Passover approaches. Moses, mentioned here by a Christian, led the Jews to the Holy Land but couldn’t himself enter it. Miracles were aplenty at this time, his self-sacrifice not being the least of them. This beautiful image before us here is compelling and unforgettable. I will imagine it on seder night and feel the presence of more than what is intended by my religion. I will feel close to Ivan and all of you out there I meet on this screen. Religion will not be exclusive, it will become all embracing in this world where no one group’s sorrows are without parallel anymore.

  2. Glendaon 14 Mar 2012 at 11:36 am

    loved it. Now I too want to know his work.

  3. Constanceon 14 Mar 2012 at 12:08 pm

    What a deep introduction to R.S.Thomas, with whom I was not acquainted at all~~his words, so welcome,took the hurry out of a day that was fast heading in that unsettling direction ~~ Ivan’s commentary helped too~~ keeping the pace gentle and steady ~~~ thanks ~~

  4. Catherineon 14 Mar 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I don’t know about the “eternity that awaits” but I like this poem. It’s interesting that he is still trapped in past/future language (“I have seen…” “That was the pearl” “I must give all that I have to possess” “to a brightness that seemed” “your youth once” “the eternity that awaits”) despite his having identified what it is that he wants to possess: what sits in the now. Of course, that now is fleeting and fleeting again, perhaps never to be “grasped” if not in “eternity” which for the Anglican priest makes sense will be after the death of the body.
    The more I sit with this the more I think that shuttling movement forward and backward in time is intentional on the level of language, to highlight the beauty of the image at the beginning of the poem, which came and went and yet lingers throughout, of the moment the sun lights up a small field.

  5. Catherineon 14 Mar 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I must add how much I love this poem though, and that image of the field, and the way it causes me to slow down. Thank you for posting.

  6. Jennyon 14 Mar 2012 at 2:48 pm

    This poem is very lovely. These lines, in particular, could be describing the Poetry Chaikhana site.

    “I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while”

    “the one field that had treasure in it”

    I appreciate your emails and posts. Thank you.

  7. cynthia moranon 15 Mar 2012 at 2:38 am

    “The Bright Field “is an RS Thomas poem new to me..thank you. It is simply beautiful and speaks so deeply of the need to stop and look, to be , to be still and to notice . In our rushing about in our busyness we miss so much of the mystery we call “God ” who is all around us and in our lives all the time, everywhere, not only in “the bright field” of nature. I need to be reminded of that over and over again. I also love his poem “But the Silence in tne Mind”…it too talks of the need to be still, to be silent “when we live best”. R.S.Thomas was an enigma. A man full of paradoxes and a man of extremes. He refused to have a fridge in his home because of the noise it makes, he was a pacifist and yet supported Welsh nationalism and the bombing of English holiday houses!!! and apparently he ranted and raved at the people from the pulpit but would hide behind hedges from passersby in shyness. AND he was a wonderful poet who brings me to a new depth . Thank you for your poetry has become the starting point for my dayand helps me to stay in touch with the pearl of great price, with the bright field within and all around. Thank you. Cynthia.

  8. MARGUERITE VAN DER MERWEon 15 Mar 2012 at 10:45 am

    From far-off South Africa – Great Gratitude to Ivan for Poetry Chaikhana – and for this simple, clear poem from a person and a Time that seems clearere and more simple than ours. Which is probably also illusion and relative. My name means ‘a pearl of great price’ so – what to say ! about this poem’s message so appropriate right now.
    Soft mist envelops on our mountains , falling in the rhythm of the skies.
    Blessings on you all – Marguerite

  9. marilynon 15 Mar 2012 at 5:57 pm

    The poet is new to me and I liked his poem very much, but Ivan’s image of “the poet’s aging voice, a slow, dark syrup” is as fresh and wonderful as any image found in the poem itself!

  10. MADATHIL NAIRon 17 Mar 2012 at 8:17 pm

    This is Tolle to my ears! That bright field is the ‘now’ – the permanent present. When the notion of past and present arises, the hurrying starts and we lose grip of the ‘now’. We are in the world then. Beautiful!

  11. Noondueleron 19 Mar 2012 at 5:14 pm

    What is up with light? We could go on and on about it but light doesn’t give anything but itself.
    “How big is light?”
    Don’t even think about it.

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