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R.S. Thomas is not known for this kind of poem – he is usually seen as a poet of the Welsh communities, depicting the rugged individualism of the rural farm or mineworker.
Here however, he tackles a universal subject: the “roles” that husband and wife must play to keep the illusion of their early attraction alive. Taken literally, the narrator is lamenting his marriage to an actress (“Being unwise enough to have married her, --"), who divides her affections between her husband and her audiences, playing roles for both, seeking applause and approbation from both. The narrator, now facing his wife in an important moment, perhaps her death, is unsure whether her utterances (“I love you, she would say") are for him or just part of the role she is playing. The poem seems autobiographical (his wife was Mildred Elsie “Elsi” Eldridge, an artist and art teacher), but if a universal message about all marriages, is bitter and pessimistic.
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