Ship to shore.

What is it to be old (or middle-aged for that matter), and to believe that you have lived one’s life? We get sick, and emotionally crippled. Our love-life shrivels, the world ignores us, we ignore the world. Sometimes, there is nowhere to go, no one left to go with. Our future is all in the past.

But here is the consoling Welsh voice of the countryside, R.S. Thomas, who would not suffer fools and foolish things. “The Bright Field” is one of my deepest favourite poems.


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 receeding 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.

I love the trotting, bare-backed ache of the simple truths expressed in the first person, “I have seen”, “I realize now / that I must give all that I have / to possess it”. The caesura here (or break in the line of verse) has a wonderful function. Imagine a middle-aged/old man wheezing his way past old foibles and regrets, whispering these truths to himself, perhaps after much exertion.

But indeed, there’s no great rush to exert oneself unduly. Life is neither hurrying, badgering nor hankering after anything at all. Just that simple Volta, the turn, the shift, the departure of not seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.

And it must surely require poetic/religious brilliance to collapse a conceit of the lit bush to the impermanence of youth and the comfort of eternity. (And these are binaries/concepts that has suffered heavy-handed philosophical treatment, and none expressed with the poignancy that R.S. Thomas delivers)

But for me, it’s not a bright field that I think of when I read the poem. It’s not any sun-drenched, daffodil-filled spot of nature that brings my ship to shore. Instead, it’s a deserted snowy field nestled somewhere in Mondsee, in St Gilgen or perhaps Salzburg, that I trace in my mind’s eye, in the air, which I know, my dearest will lead me back to you …

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