R.S. Thomas “Absolution”

It’s a rather amazing poet who publicly recants his earlier poetry, but that seems to be exactly what R.S. Thomas does in this poem in “Song at the Year’s Turning” published in 1955, published three years after “Valediction,” which I cited yesterday:


Prytherch, man, can you forgive
From your stone altar on which the light’s
Bread is broken at dusk and dawn
One who strafed you with thin scorn
From the cheap gallery of his mind?
It was you who were right the whole time
Right in this that the day’s end
Finds you still in the same field
In which you started, your soul made strong
By the earth’s incense, the wind’s song.
While I have worn my soul bare
On the world’s roads, seeking what lay
Too close for the mind’s lenses to see,
And come now with the first stars
Big on my lids westward to find
With the slow lifting up of your hand
No welcome, only forgiveness.

I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure what caused the change of heart, though it must have come from Thomas’ change in attitude toward “the cheap gallery of his [own] mind” for it’s clear that Prytherch hasn’t changed. In fact, it seems to be his very lack of change, “finds you in the same field/ In which you started” that the narrator admires.

In contrast, the narrator has worn his soul “bare/ On the world’s roads, seeking what lay/ Too close for the mind’s lenses to see,” which I’d have to interpret as a rejection of purely “rational” thought. There lies something within us that is “made strong/By the earth’s incense, the wind’s song” that cannot be perceived by the mind alone.

I suspect that the narrator sees himself as the greatest sinner because he has abandoned the natural world for the mind, whereas the farmer, at least, has not abandoned that world and, thus, has a greater chance of redemption than the intellectual.