A Peasant by Ronald Stuart Thomas: Critical Appreciation

The poem A Peasant is a laudatory (praising description of a simple farmer; the poem also ends by claiming that the old man is a hero of all times. The speaker of the poem is in an indefinite situation by simply thinking about a simple peasant (farmer) named Iago Prytherch from the bald hills of Wales in Britain.

Ronald S. Thomas (1913-2000)

His meditation that follows the description of the old peasant ends with a claim that the simple tanner is also a hero, the winner of many wars, perhaps the wars of the hardships of life. This is also most likely a satiric comment of the so-called heroes of actual wars who kill others and are wrongly called great and glorious.

The outward situation of the persona is constant, and only the ideas develop from the statement or name to a direct address to us and a reminder that the man is a hero, a prototype who has resisted the seize of many seasons. With unusual wording that suggests implicit meanings as well explicit descriptions, the persona makes a number of appreciative remarks about Iago Prytherch. In the first seven lines, the speaker gives a brief description of how Iago spends his days. In the next five lines, we are told something about how he spends his lonely nights. In four more lines that follow, the speaker comments on the peasant's mind, his clothes, and his natural but shockingly dirty appearance. Then, in the last six lines, the speaker gives his final comments about the heroism of the farmer as a "prototype" (supreme model/ best example) of a hero in true human life.

After once reading the poem carefully, we understand that the poet's intention is to prove the simple farmer as the true hero of all times, since they preserve and support the life of others, unlike the so-called "heroes" of war who are nothing but monsters called great men for killing others. The poem is therefore a praise of the simple human prototype as well as a satire on the brutality of war -heroes. The speaker also seems to be describing his hero in response to someone who is telling him (or has told him) about the greatness of war-heroes.

The basic technique of conveying the ideas and making the impressions that the poet intends is the use of striking descriptions and claims. He also uses direct address to the reader and advises them why they should regard the simple a great hero of all times. The humble way in which he introduces his character suggests that he is initially hesitant to call him a hero; in fact, he seems to be talking to a person who will not understand or accept such an unusual idea. He starts hesitantly, as the lack of a finite verb in the first sentence suggests: Iago Prytherch his name, though, be it allowed, just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills, who pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud". The sentence extends to three lines and we expect that something will be claimed before the syntax ends, but nothing is claimed with confidence or certainty. The sentence is also punctuated and broken in several places, giving it a tone of hesitation. This is to be contrasted with the confident and strong claims along with strong address and advice, at the end of the poem.

The second sentence, along with a dash that marks a turning point in the tone of the poem, describes how the farmer spends his day. These details are simple, but they are typical of the life Welsh villagers. This part creates a picture of life so different from our own, and so it is difficult to understand exactly. 'Chipping the green skin from the yellow hones' most probably means the act of taking out the fibrous bark of a tree for making rope. "Churning the crude earth into a sea of glinting (shining) clods" literally means "ploughing thoroughly" and suggests the arduous work of the farmer. The different activities of the farmer show that he is doing so many things without rest. In short, the farmer is extremely hard-working and busy, but he is seen rather " unhappy, because the speaker says that his “mirth”  meaning happiness or merriment is rarer than the sun that cracks the cheek of the sky once a week. At night, he sits alone near the fire and spits into it; he is seen sitting still and with a "vacant” mind that even looks "frightening". This means that the farmer has no time to think about anything during the day, but is worried by certain things at night. Most probably, he is mourning his lost family — for we see him alone and unhappy — or he is worried about some kind of problem in the world. As we can infer from the end of the poem, he is probably worried about the violence and destruction brought about by wars. His heroism lies in his perseverance and faith in the ordinary pursuit of life and support of the society by producing the basic necessity of life, rather in the killing of men in the name of keeping the so-called order in the society.

The choice of words becomes even more striking towards the end of the poem. The speaker begins to use more and more simple and explicit words, confidently praising Iago as a hero. Before moving into his final claim, however, he mentions the simplicity and stark naturalness of the old man: "His clothes, sour with years of sweat/ And animal contact, (will) shock the refined (city people), / But (who are) affected (snobbish and artificial), with his sense of stark naturalness". The poet now puts the old 'dirty' natural man upon the plane of evaluation. Though the speaker unhesitatingly suggests that Iago has not washed his clothes 'for years', he now suggests that the old man is 'natural', and that the refined are "affected". The word 'refined' indicates the advanced people of the city, and the word 'affected', which refers to the same people, means that they are snobbish and artificial. This part of the poem brings out another issue, the issue of the depreciation of the artificial people in contrast to the 'natural' man represented by Iago Prytherch.

The last part of the poem is clown to earth: in the last six lines the Speaker is simple, direct and explicit In, his ideas and expression. He starts with the emphatic word of contrast “Yet" and claims that 'this' Iago is “your" prototype. He means that Iago is the real role model, the perfect example for 'us'. Why? He is a 'prototype' for us because he has "preserved his stock" (sheep) from the attack of the rain and wind's attrition (weakening effect), season after season. He has been an "impregnable fortress" or an army construction that is impossible to enter or conquer! Not only the seasons, even death itself has not been able to 'storm' or confuse the strong and persevering old man. This means that he is also tolerated and fought against the impact of death: perhaps his family and relatives have died. But the old man is a hero precisely for preserving life and persevering in favor of life, rather than taking others' lives like the demoniac murderers called warriors and soldiers serving some wicked kings or gangs. After conveying this much of impressive ideas about the heroism of a unique and true kind, the poet is now able to directly talk to us and tell us to "Remember him, then, for he, too, is a winner of wars". The pauses at the end of the poem are emphatic and rhetorical, rather than the pauses marking hesitating in the beginning.

The logical structure of the poem, as has been indicated in the previous paragraphs, is mainly of striking descriptions followed by direct claims about the 'heroism' of the main character. The poem is indeed a character sketch that ends with a proposal to accept the farmer as the actual hero of life. Thematically, the farmer as the preserver and provider of life is the true hero who champions life, instead of scattering death, in whatever name.

The poem is also striking for its rhythm that becomes more and more regular as it approaches the end. The harshness of the farmer's life is reinforced by the serious tone, broken and heavy-sounding rhythms, and the irregular rhymes in the poem. The poem is remarkable for the vivid imagery of the old peasant that it creates: it brings to our minds the many poor but great heroes who supply for the sustenance of our lives with their blood and sweat in their farms, rather the other types of so-called heroes who threaten us with their guns. This is a poem that touches me for the really great philosophy about 'who' are the real heroes!

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Sharma, Kedar N. "A Peasant by Ronald Stuart Thomas: Critical Appreciation." BachelorandMaster, 31 Aug. 2014, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/a-peasant-critical-appreciation.html.

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