R.S. Thomas’ “Come Down”

I had a hard time deciding which poem I liked best in the section called “Mass for Hard Times (1992)” and which best represented Thomas’ themes. I liked the first section of the title poem as well as any of his poems I’ve read, but since it’s a long poem and seemed rather uneven, I chose to go with this one:


A peasantry on its knees,
not praying, labouring
for the bread that perishes.

And this one came preaching
the gospel of folly
that man shall not live

by bread only. So they left
the fields to assist
at the delivery of the machine

from time’s side. Of whom
does the scarecrow remind
arms wide as though pierced

by the rain’s nails, while
the motorist goes by insolently
wagging his speedometer’s finger?

which presents several of Thomas’ major themes. The most obvious is that the spiritual life is more important than the material life, ironically referred to as the “gospel of folly,” a gospel that’s certainly been hard to sell.

Misunderstanding His message, the peasantry abandoned the fields which produced the grain and turned to machines for salvation.

In doing so, Thomas believes that man has left Jesus behind — like an abandoned scarecrow, a theme quite similar to one in American literature, often referred to as “The Machine in the Garden of Eden.”