Cynddylan On A Tractor Essay Help

Who/ What is Iago Prytherch?

----- A Young Person's Guide to Iago Prytherch Poems-----

Yoshifum! Nagata


R.S. Thomas, the renowned Welsh priest-poet, in particular between his Manafon and Eglwys-fach years, made his home country the specific object of his poetic concern. Some of the poems from that period concern a Welsh hill farmer called Iago Prytherch.

Thomas depicts his life in the lonely moorland upon the Mid-Welsh hills, but cannot fathom what he is thinking in his mind. So Thomas asks Prytherch many questions to which he scarcely answers, and his poetry was created from them.

Standing away from his fields, Thomas always observes him labouring silently. Once he tries to approach him, praising him and his knowledge but he is strongly rejected by the farmer. Since then, all of his words and questions are ignored by the farmer and his long struggle for the truth upon the Welsh hills, which only Prytherch seems to know, begins.

Who is Iago Prytherch?

Iago Prytherch is a main character in Thomas's early poetry. Although Thomas left poems about other hill farmers, Prytherch is the only one who consistently appears throughout Thomas's early poetry. And the name, "Iago Prytherch," is a common Welsh name in the mid Wales and Thomas chose it for his character so that non-Welsh readers could pronounce it; while "Iago" is the Welsh common first name and the counterpart in English is James, "Prytherch" is a Welsh surname given to an English-speaking hill-farmer1.

Prytherch does not have a specific model; he is not a particular person but an imaginary one of an English-speaking-Welsh-hill-farmer. The poet says, "I devised a character called Iago Prytherch -- an amalgam of some farmers I used to see at work on the Montgomeryshire hillsides."2 The poet also believes the hillsides "will serve as the prototype for the greater part of the Welsh uplands."3 The poet continues "In the opinion of some, he developed into a symbol of something greater."

The first poem about Iago Prytherch was written in 1942 and it was called 'A Peasant'. He continued to act as a poetic model for about 20 years, being his last appearance in a volume called Not That He Brought Flowers (1968). There is one more, very brief, reference to him in 'Gone'(Frequencies (1978)).

Iago Prytherch, however, is not a special man. He is "Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills." His clothes are "sour with years of sweat/ And animal contact." ('A Peasant') He is not rich nor learned nor young. He is poor. He has no learning. He is old. He is lean. He never owns any a machine like a tractor, which would break the silence on the Welsh hills.4

He is "so far in" his "small fields/ From the world's eye"('Iago Prytherch') and never stands on the main road. He is far from town or city. And in his own fields on that hill, he is exposed by the poet's gaze.

He works there silently "Without joy, without sorrow,/ Without children, without wife" ('Affinity'). He has "the colourless eye,"('A Labourer') "That expects nothing."('The Face'). His hands are "the twitching hands,/ Veined like a leaf, ... / Wrinkled and gnarled"('The Labourer').

At night he is not diligent; he is "fixed in his chair/ Motionless, except when he leans to gob in the fire" ('A Peasant') in order to rest his body for his tomorrow's labour.

While he is not civilized, he lives closer to the nature upon the Welsh hills than any other people do. "He has been here since life began."('The Labourer') But this land is not fertile nor rich; there is no gay nor city fun; this is the silent but wasted land -- "Beauty, love and mirth/ And joy are strangers there."('Autumn on the Land')

Upon these hard hills, Iago Prytherch "pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud /Docking mangles chipping the green skin/ From the yellow bones with a half-witted grin/ Of satisfaction, or churning the crude earth/ To a stiff sea of clouds that glint in the wind" in day ('A Peasant'). Or he crouches at his "slow/ And patient surgery under the faint / November rays of the sun's lamp"('Iago Prytherch'). Why in November? This concerns the poet's first experience of seeing a farmer labouring on the wasted fields in a cold autumn day in 1942. It was the first time for Thomas to come to face with Wales's poverty and the reality of Wales. His experience compelled him write his first poem about Iago Prytherch. It was called 'A Peasant'.

Thomas tells about 'A Peasant' as follows;
"My awakening to the possibility of a more robust poetry came with my removal to my first incumbency in the Montgomeryshire foothills in 1942 ....Their [i.e., the hill farmers'] life and their attitudes, administered an inward shock to my Georgian sensibility. I responded with the first of my poems about Iago Prytherch, a sort of prototype of this kind of farmer. It was called 'A Peasant'."5
"On a dark, cold day in November, ... he[the poet] saw the farmer's brother out in the field, docking mangels. The thing made a profound impression on him, and when he returned to the house after the visit he set about writing 'A Peasant,' the first poem to attempt to face the reality of the scenes around him."6

The poet also explains 'A Peasant' as "the first of my poems about Iago Prytherch, my symbol of the hill farmer."7

The impact that he had in November 1942 was so strong that Iago Prytherch always appeared in cold autumn.

Thus Iago Prytherch is a prototype("Yet this is your prototype")('A Peasant') for the Welsh people labouring upon the Montgomeryshire hills, "the prototype for the greater part of the Welsh uplands."3 And with the birth of 'A Peasant', the poet opened the gate of modern Anglo-Welsh poetry. He, too, opened to us the gate to the real Wales, bringing the reader face to face with the reality of its poverty. Through the figure of Prytherch, R.S.Thomas was able to mature his perception of his home country, nurturing the modern poet within him - it is the 'modern' poets who became to see the harsh reality of the countryside not only the beauty of it.

What does Iago Prytherch think?

His "face is lit always from without,/ The sun by day, the red fire at night; Within is dark and bare."('The Last of the Peasantry') Actually "the hedge" of his filed "defines/ The mind's limits" ('Soil') and "There is something frightening in the vacancy of his mind." ('A Peasant')

Iago Prytherch is not familiar with Kant('Green Categories'), nor education nor church. Later the poet confesses "there was something else that would worry me as I saw him sweating or shivering hour after hour in the fields: "What is he thinking about? What's going on inside his skull?" And of course there was always the awful possibility that the answer was - "Nothing"."8

From the viewpoint of the civilized world or church-goers, the inside of his skull seems to be "Nothing". Yet this is wrong. If you stood upon the same field beside him, you could see his knowledge, the one close to the nature. So the poet "will sing/ The land's praises, making articulate" Prythrch's "thoughts of no date, ... secret learning, innocent of books"('Memories') because here upon the Welsh-hills "Things exist rooted in the flesh, / Stone, tree and flower"('Green Categories'). Prytherch's body is formed out of the soil in this wasted land, that is a witness of the great but sad history of Wales. So Prytherch's heart "is the dark well/ From which to draw, drop after drop,/ The terrible poetry of his kind" ('The Dark Well') and is of also "the thin/ Soil ..., not rich, nor fertile,/ Yet capable of the one crop, / Which is the bread of truth" ('Servant'). It's not the poet but this farmer who knows the secret of this land.
Sometimes Thomas takes the images from Christian sacraments and then Prytherch plays a roll of a priest. He stands on his "stone alter on which the light's/ Bread is broken at dusk and dawn." He is the only one who knows the truth of Welsh hills and breaks "the bread of truth", for which the poet is begging. And Thomas, the priest-poet, apologizes for his long failure and begs 'Absolution' from him.

So the poet introduces him to the Welsh people, declaring "this is your prototype"('A Peasant') and "the last of your kind"('Iago Prytherch'). Nevertheless, Prytherch never mentions nor answers to the addresses from the poet, except in 'The Hill Farmer Speaks', 'Invasion on the Farm' and 'Truth'. In these three poems, we can know he has no aim to lead the poet to the truth he really wants. He just strongly rejects the poet's approach, saying "I don't know/ What you are talking about."('Invasion on the Farm')

Is the poet discouraged by the rejection? No. The poet is patient; he stares at Prytherch as if "he kneeled long" to pray 'In a Country Church'. He knows it was Prytherch "who were right the whole time"('Absolution') and knew 'Truth' in hill country -- "Every right word on your[Prythrch's] tongue/ Has a green taste"('Truth')9 . Thus the poet thinks "Right in this that the day's end/ Finds you still in the same field/ In which you started". ('Absolution') And even after years - maybe centuries - have passed Prytherch continues to labour in the same field, as the poet imagine "He was in the fields, when I set out./ He was in the fields, when I came back." ('Truth')

Now the poet dare not approach him; he expected "to find the slow lifting up of" his "hand ... only forgiveness"('Absolution') but "His arm half/ Lifted was more to ward off" his ideal or "foolishness" ('The Truth').

However Iago Prytherch remains as an 'Enigma' for the poet. For he lives closer to the land than any others but "cannot read the flower-printed book/ Of nature, nor distinguish the small songs / The birds bring him" and never has "love there, or hope, or any thought/ For the frail form broken beneath his tread,/ And the sweet pregnancy that yields his bread" ('A Labourer'). Thomas's questions are left unresolved and Prytherch never gives any an answer or a clue to them.

The poet saw his "dark figure/ Marring the simple geometry / Of the square fields with its gaunt question." His poems "were made in its long shadow/ Falling coldly across the page." ('Iago Prytherch') -- and there is a fathomless gap between the poet and the farmer in their thoughts.

Between the Gap

So far, we have seen an incredible gap between the poet and the farmer, but now we will see the one between the modern Wales and the ancient Wales.

After the Industrial Revolution in Britain many mines were opened by the English in Wales, especially South and Border land, and the population in Wales was increased very much due to immigration from England and other Europe countries. Many of non-Welsh people settled down there and worked as miners. Some married the Welsh. The censuses say its population in 1801 is 587,128 and that just after 40 years it grows to 1,045, 958. In 1921, it grows to 2,656,474. They, especially the miners, liked choiring due to Methodists and, bcause of these Male choirs, Wales has been called a land of songs. Thus 'miners' became to represent the Welsh after the Industrial Revolution.

However the Celts, the original, or prototype in the poet's words, for the Welsh people, had good farming skills to cultivate the ground, when they came into the Great Britain in 300-100 BC. It was the time when the roots of a distinctive Welsh life and culture were determinated 10

Thus Iago Prytherch, the descendant from the Celtic Welsh people, preserves real Welshness deep in himself. He is also a symbol for Wales, the kingdom under rule from England for a long time. The poet wished the revival of Wales as a kingdom throughout his life, and believed Prytherch should "be/ The first man of the new community." ('Iago Prytherch'("Ah, Iago, my friend ...")).

Thus the roll of Prytherch should have been a bridge over a deep gap between modern Wales and ancient - real, in the poet's words-Wales.

Yet Iago Prytherch did not become "The first man" and unfortunately Wales is not an independent kingdom now. The poet sees a dark and pitiful Welsh history in him "whose heart ... is the dark well/ From which to draw, drop after drop,/ The terrible poetry of his kind" ('The Dark Well') but Prytherch never mentions himself. He just tills his field. So the only thing the poet can do is to observe him and to give him so many unanswered questions.


Iago Prytherch served the poet well from all his questionings and doubts. Yet he never gave the poet "the whole answer" ('Servant') ; he has just silently laboured in the same field upon Welsh hills and the poet's many questions still remain unswered. One thing is sure, however; "He is never absent, [on that bare hill] ... / Endlessly ploughing as though autumn/ Were the one season he know." ('The Face') Even after the poet's death in 2000, you can find out among the pages of Thomas's books that Iago Prytherch is still on the same field, although

there is no applause
For his long wrestling with the angel
Of no name. I can see his eye
That expects nothing, that has the rain's
Colourlessness. His hands are broken
But not his spirit. He is like bark
Weathering on the tree of his kind.

He will go on; that much is certain.


1. Anne Stevenson, 'The Uses of Prytherch', The Page's Drift : R.S.Thomas at Eighty, edited by M. Wynn Thomas, (Seren, 1993), p.40
2. R.S.Thomas, 'Abercuawg', R.S.Thomas Selected Prose, edited by Sandra Anstey, (seren, 1993-1995), p.126
3. R.S.Thomas, 'The Depopulation of the Welsh Hill Country', R.S.Thomas Selected Prose, edited by Sandra Anstey, (seren, 1993-1995), p.17
4. It is noteworthy that there was few tractor in Manafon when Thomas served as a rector. There was also not electricity there at that time. Thomas left 'Cynddylan on a Tractor,' a famous poetry depicting another type of a farmer different from Iago Prytherch. It reads "Ah, you should see Cynddylan on a tractor. ... Riding to work as a great man should,/ He is the knight at arms breaking the fields'/ Mirror of silence, emptying the wood/ Of foxes and squirrels and bright jays."
5. From a tape of R.S.Thomas reading and discussing his own poems, 'Norwich Tapes Ltd; The Critical Forum', 1978; cf., Sandra Anstey, "Uncollected Poems and Variant Readings", The Pages Drift: R.S. Thomas at Eighty, (seren, 1993), p.28 & note no.3
6. R.S.Thomas, 'No One', Autobiographies ,translated from the Welsh by Janson Walford Davies, (J.M.Dent,1997),p.52
7. R.S.Thomas, "Autobiographical Essay", Miraculous Simplicity, p.9-10
8. R.S.Thomas, 'Abercuawg', R.S.Thomas Selected Prose, edited by Sandra Anstey, (seren, 1993-1995), p.126
9. Thomas often uses "green" as a symbol colour for Wales especially in his Eglwys-fach years. It might derive from the green hills in Wales or the Welsh national green and white flag with a red dragon.
10. cf., Jones, J. Graham, The History of Wales, (University of Wales Press, 1990), p. 4

Further Readings;
R. George Thomas, 'Humans Sum: A Second Look at R.S.Thomas', Critical Writings on R.S. Thomas, edited by Sandra Anstey, (Seren Books, 1992)
H.J. Savill, 'The Iago Prytherch Poems of R.S.Thomas', Critical Writings on R.S. Thomas, (op.cit)
Anne Stevenson, 'The Uses of Prytherch', The Pages Drift, edited by M. Wynn Thomas, (Seren, 1993)
John Powell Ward, The Poetry of R.S. Thomas, (Seren, 1987 & 2001)
Patrick Crotty, 'Extraordinary Man of the Bald Welsh Hills: The Iago Prytherch Poems', Echoes to the Amen: Essays After R.S. Thomas, (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2003)

(c)&(p) 2005 Yoshifum! Nagata

Photos were taken in and around Manafon, Wales,
by Yoshifum! Nagata
during summer and autumn 2001-2004.

R.S.Thomas, priest and poet
Text and photos (otherwise noticed)
by Yoshifum! Nagata

(c)&(p)Yoshifum! Nagata

Click, if there is not a frame on the left. Thank you.

Presentation on theme: "‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. Thomas"— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. Thomas
This is a drawing ofR.S Thomas.Ronald Stuart Thomas was a famous poet who painted pictures with words.He lived in Wales.His poems describe the Welsh people and the Welsh landscape.Images courtesy of :Mildred E. Eldridge

2 Cynddylan on a Tractor - R.S. Thomas
‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. ThomasCynddylan on a Tractor - R.S. ThomasBefore using the activity press Escape and type the poem into this box. Delete this message and don’t forget to save the file.

3 Hot Seating Session One
‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. ThomasThink about the poem.Hot Seating Session OneWorking with your ‘thinking partner’ make a list ofquestions you would like to ask the poetR.S. Thomas.What can you tell me about Cynddylan?What does Cynddylan look like?Where do you live?Have you got a favourite view from your house?How do you collect ideas for your poems?

4 Hot Seating Session Two
‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. ThomasHot Seating Session TwoWorking with your ‘thinking partner’ make a list of questions you would like to ask Cynddylan, the farmer.How did you manage your land before you had your tractor?How do you feel when you drive your tractor across your land?What do you like about being a farmer?

5 Challenge: Write a poem about someone you know.
How will you plan your ideas?Make a mind map.What does he/she look like?Where does he/she live?Who will you choose?What do you think about this person?What sort of person is he/she?What does he/she like to do?

6 Challenge: Make a picture to describe the person.
Think about ….How can you describe this person with pictures?Where is the person?What is he/she doing?What is he/she wearing?Which materials will you use?Which process will you choose?DrawingPaintingCollageSculpture

7 ‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. Thomas
Group Work Look at your finished picture and your mind map. Talk about your ideas to the group.Poetry Writing TipsYour picture and mind map will help your ideas.Think about interesting sentences to describe the person.Carefully arrange your sentences to tell your story about the person.Use a thesaurus to find new words.Remember – You are painting your picture using words.Read your final draft to the group/class.What do they think?Talk about it.Make any changes.Present your finished poem with your artwork.

8 At the end of the task, think about……
‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. ThomasAt the end of the task, think about……How did you plan your work?Did making a picture of the person help your writing?Did the mind map help you plan and write your poem?Did talking to the group help you develop your ideas?What would you change if you did this task again?Can you think of another subject or task where you might use these planning skills?

9 At the end of the task, think about……
‘Cynddylan on a Tractor’ By R.S. ThomasAt the end of the task, think about……How did you plan your work?Did making a picture of the person help your writing?Did the mind map help you plan and write your poem?Did talking to the group help you develop your ideas?What would you change if you did this task again?Can you think of another subject or task where you might use these planning skills?


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