Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The title “The Airy Tomb” is almost an oxymoron; one expects a tomb to be closed and stuffy, rather than airy. The poem continues to overturn expectations and surprise the reader. One can initially read it as idealizing the working man or the peasant, as much Romantic poetry did, but Thomas is careful to keep the poem from becoming a soft pastoral. He describes the harshness of the Welsh farmer’s life, using images such as rotting sheep or “Deadly as leprosy.” In the last stanza, he writes, “you must face the fact/ Of his long life alone in that crumbling house,” lines that do not allow the reader to see Twm’s life as anything but desolate without human company.

The poem is about place; Twm belongs on the farm, not in school or town. When people attempt to force him out of himself in his early years at school, the attempt does not work. The only poems he can read, the only language he can understand, is that of animals. “The Airy Tomb” is also about being alone. When Twm’s father dies, his mother does not live through the next winter. He is left therefore to keep the farm in much the way his father did, making a place for himself with the land. Other of Thomas’s poems speak of the relationship between the Welsh peasant and the land; the farmer is often portrayed as part of the landscape, but the landscape itself is bleak and unyielding. Thomas is aware of the poverty and the difficulty of farming on the rocky and cold mountains of...

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