A young man believed he was fighting for a just cause but soon realises he has been “misled” and the “blood of so many dead” will forever “stain” his hands. This bleak and raw voice in R.S. Thomas’ “Here” vividly conveys the brutal and traumatic experience of war.
The poem opens with a simple declarative: “I am a man now”. The line seems like a confident declaration of adulthood, but the adverb reminds the reader that the innocence and nativity of childhood has been lost. The speaker’s growth has come at a great cost.
The speaker asks the reader to “pass” our hands over his “brow” so that we can “can feel the place where the brains grow”. His experiences and increase in knowledge are palpable.
The second tercet reinforces this image of change. The speaker compares himself to a “tree” and the “top boughs” which can see all of the metaphorical “footprints” that “led up to” his new identity. The simile is effective because trees often symbolise growth and wisdom. The speaker is aware of his history and current situation.
A good example of the speaker’s change can be found in the different interpretations of “blood” in the third and fourth tercets. His pulsating “blood” is “clear” and untainted by “stain”. This contrasts with the “blood” of the “dead” in the next verse. The speaker questions why “so many” people have been slaughtered.
The speaker defends his moral strength and virtue in the third tercet by claiming the “blood” in his “veins” are without “the stain contracted in so many loins”. The reference to his “blood” in his veins signifies his physical and spiritual being which has not been corrupted by any “stain”.
The image of “loins”, which is synecdochic for other people, could refer to sexually transmitted diseases or, symbolically, masculine strength. Either way, the speaker maintains his integrity despite the contagion, which is suggested by the verb “contracted”, inflicting “so many” people.
Since the speaker has remained honourable, he questions why he has experienced so much destruction and death in the fourth tercet. There is a tone of desperate exasperation and uncertainty in the interrogatives. The fact his “hands” are “red” suggests he feels guilty and responsible for their deaths.
The speaker thought fighting for his country was a noble and patriotic act, but now he feels “misled” by his government.
This betrayal extends to his faith in the fifth tercet when he questions why God does not “hear” his prayers. He feels devastated and forsaken by the empty promises of religion because it offers no resolution to the conflict. He also feels hopeless because he is unable to control his “hands” and change his grim predicament.
The speaker feels so abandoned and forlorn that he has “no where to go” and “must stay here with my hurt”.
The image of the “swift satellites” suggest he is being watched and is unable to choose to escape the war. There is a lovely contrast between the “swift satellites” and his own body “clock” being “slow”.
The urgent movement of the “satellites is clear in the adjective “swift”, but it is reinforced by sibilance in “swift satellites show” that forces the line onwards. The long vowel sounds in “show”, “of”, “clock”, “whole” and “slow” create a dull monotone which represents his inability to move. He is resigned to suffer.
Form and Structure
The poem consists of seven poetic triples. Each tercet is self-contained, depicting a separate and evocative idea, from the ambivalent declaration “I am a man now” to the inconsolable realisation “I must stay here with my hurt”. This structure allows the reader to linger on each harrowing thought.
War is often depicted as a heroic defence of your nation. This triumphant pride is conveyed through the aaa rhyme scheme. For example, the rhyming of “now”, “brow” and “grow” in the first tercet could be perceived as upbeat.
However, the rhymes often fall on words which have very negative connotations, such as “red”, “dead” and “misled” in the fourth verse. The end rhymes never allow a sense of progression. It is as if the sounds are stuck. Of course, the poem ends with the speaker recognising his inability to leave his “hurt”.
Finally, numbers are an important in element of storytelling in the bible. Seven occurs regularly. The Book Revelations, for example, says there are seven spirits of God. There are also three persons in the holy trinity. In this way, the underlying structure of “Here” echoes the numbers found throughout the Scriptures.
Throughout the poem, there is no real sense of location and it could be set anywhere. This suggests war and human suffering is inescapable. However, the image of the “swift satellites” gives the modern context of the Second World War.
The fact that “no God” answers his prayers universalises the poem beyond a Christian context.
The reference to “blood” and “loins” also suggests we continue to inherit the need for war because prejudice runs in our “veins”.
- How does the opening line suggest the speaker has been changed?
- How is this transformation reinforced by the next two lines?
- Suggest why the speaker compares himself to a tree.
- Explain the significance of being able to see the “footprints”.
- How does the third tercet suggest the speaker is innocent?
- Suggest why the speaker is desperate to claim they are “clear of the stain”.
- In your own words, summarise why the speaker is so confused and angry in the fourth tercet.
- How does the speaker physically feel in the fifth tercet?
- How does the speaker feel spiritually in the fifth tercet?
- Suggest why the speaker has “no where to go”.
- Is the alliterative “swift satellites show” effective in conveying a sense of time?
- Suggest why the speaker “must stay” with his “hurt”.
- What message do you think R.S. Thomas wanted to convey in this poem?