R.S.Thomas’ “Too Late”

All indications to the contrary, I haven’t forsworn reading this summer, even though Google brings more visitors to my images than to my scribblings. It seems strangely appropriate that I’m in the middle of reading R.S. Thomas’ Collected Poems 1945-1990 because if anyone would understand my present preoccupation with being outside in the natural world, he would.

Perhaps, then, I could use this poem to justify my break from such pursuits:


I would have spared you this, Prytherch;
You were like a child to me.
I would have seen you poor and in rags,
Rather than wealthy and not free.

The rain and wind are hard masters:
I have known you wince under their lash.
But there was comfort for you at the day’s end
Dreaming over the warm ash

Of a turf fire on a hill farm,
Contented with your accustomed ration
Of bread and bacon, and drawing your strength
From membership of an old nation

Not given to beg. But look at yourself
Now, a servant hired to flog
The life out of the slow soil,
Or come obediently as a dog

To the pound’s whistle. Can’t you see
Behind the smile on the times’ face
The cold brain of the machine
That will destroy you and your race.

It strikes me as not a little hypocritical for someone, like myself or Thomas, who has never made his living working the land to criticize farmers who employ machinery to make their farming more productive. Ultimately, though, the increasing use of machinery makes family farms obsolete, because few family farmers can pay a million dollars for a machine to harvest their crop.

Farmers who rely on such equipment may become wealthier than those who work smaller plots in more traditional ways, but in a real sense they are not free because they are either working for corporations or they owe their souls to the banks that have financed their equipment.

Many in the organic farming movement seem to draw strength not only from their natural ties to the land, but from their belief that they are part of the tradition of family farmers. My own small experiments in organic farming over twenty some years would tend to support Thomas’ contention that overuse of machinery can “flog the life out of the soil.”

You don’t have to be a farmer to wonder if “the cold brain of the machine” will ultimately lead to the destruction of our race.