Sunday, March 8, 2009


The Bright Field

- R.S. Thomas

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
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding 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 y
ou.

This poem is a simple, lyrical description of a small, sun-lit field and Thomas' reaction to it. The poet notes a ray of sunshine illuminating a field, but hurries on his way and forgets all about it. In retrospect, he realizes he has passed by a field that contains a hidden treasure, worth giving up everything to possess.[1]

So, Thomas concludes, life is not hurrying on to a "receding future"-when we marry, when we have children, when we finally "make it," when we retire. Nor is life hankering after an "imagined past," for past memories are illusory. The past was never what we now remember it to be.[2]

No, life lies in the present, in little glimpses of God that we catch here and there along the way. In spite of the ugliness of our days and nights there are patches of beauty all around us, manifestations of truth and goodness.[3] These are the "thin places" in the walls of the universe where heaven is breaking through-if only, if only, we will take a moment to stop and stare; if only we have eyes to see.

What if Moses had taken a fleeting glance at the burning bush and hurried on. (He had those sheep you know, an important work to do.) Had he gone his way he would have passed up a field that concealed a measureless treasure; he would have missed an historic, life-changing encounter with God.[4]

So then, Thomas would say, life is noticing, seeing, being aware, seeing God's goodness "breaking through." It is turning aside like Moses to the miracle of something like a sun-lit field. Something small, transitory, yet symbolic of the eternity that awaits us.

DHR

[1] Cf., Jesus' parable in Matthew 13:44
[2] "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be." (I once saw those words scrawled on a stall in a men's bathroom at Stanford University back in the '60s.)
[3] Beauty is, as classical philosophers defined it, the "perceptibility (something perceived by the senses) of divine truth and goodness."
[4] Exodus 3:1-22

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