Ronald Stuart Thomas, who published as R. S. Thomas, was born on 29 March 1913 and died in 2000
He was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who was noted for his nationalism and spirituality: he wrote about the people of his country , the values of the common man, focusing on the difficulties of rural existence.
He is considered one of the leading poets of modern Wales and his contribution to his country is present not just in his writing but also in his political interventions and activism on behalf of Welsh language and culture.
Here’s a poem that vividly conveys the brutal and traumatic experience of war:
I am a man now.
Pass your hand over my brow.
You can feel the place where the brains grow.
I am like a tree,
From my top boughs I can see
The footprints that led up to me.
There is blood in my veins
That has run clear of the stain
Contracted in so many loins.
Why, then, are my hands red
With the blood of so many dead?
Is this where I was misled?
Why are my hands this way
That they will not do as I say?
Does no God hear when I pray?
I have no where to go
The swift satellites show
The clock of my whole being is slow,
It is too late to start
For destinations not of the heart.
I must stay here with my hurt.
The speaker, an adult now, is reflecting how he has changed. He’s grown up, but the metaphorical “footprints” that “led up to” his new identity have come at a great cost.
He defends his moral and physical strength and virtue ,which have not been corrupted by any “stain”, and also his past belief that his actions were clear and just. But now looking back at that time, he realizes how misguided he was.
Since he knows he has remained honourable, he questions why he has experienced so much destruction and death, for which he seems to feel guilty and responsible.
Now, he has come to maturity, both physically and mentally and realizes he no longer feels what he is fighting for is just, because he has been “misled”. He feels hopeless because he is unable to control his “hands” and change his condition. In addition, he is doubting not just his patriotism but his faith. He feels devastated and deserted also by the promises of religion. In his desperation he prays but “no God” answers his prayers, words that universalise the poem beyond a Christian context.
The speaker feels trapped, abandoned and subdued: he has “no where to go” and there is nothing he can do but “stay” with his “hurt”: human suffering is inescapable.
Sono un uomo adesso.
Passami la mano sulla fronte.
Puoi sentire dove cresce la mente.
Io sono come un albero
dai miei rami più alti vedo
le orme che portano a me.
Nelle mie vene il sangue
ha circolato lontano dalla macchia
contratta in così tanti lombi.
Perché, allora, le mie mani sono rosse
del sangue di tanti morti?
È qui che sono stato ingannato?
Perché le mie mani sono così
e non fanno come dico?
Nessun Dio ascolta quando prego?
Non ho dove andare
I satelliti veloci mostrano
che L’orologio del mio essere è lento,
È troppo tardi per i partire
Per destinazioni non del cuore.
Devo restare qui con la mia ferita.