The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Airy Tomb” begins with the phrase “Twm was a dunce at school” and describes in the first stanza what Twm cared for instead of school: the noise and motion of birds and the land around him. Though the first stanza contains the word “I,” thus establishing the presence of a speaker who is narrating the poem, the speaker remains largely absent from the poem, occasionally asking the reader for a judgment but for the most part describing what Twm did and what his world was like. The language is simple, consisting of phrases with nouns and strong verbs rather than extensive descriptive adjectives or metaphor.

The poem’s second stanza describes Twm’s work on a farm among the hills once he leaves school; he is more comfortable among the animals and the harsh working conditions than he was in the classroom. The third stanza tells of his father’s death, and the fourth of his mother’s. In the fifth stanza the poem shifts slightly from the narrative of what has happened and asks the reader to participate; the first lines are, “Can you picture Tomos now, in the house alone,/ The room silent, and the last mourner gone/ Down the hill pathway?” This question is followed by two others asking what Twm did, a device that allows the reader to imagine Twm’s feelings and options rather than being told by the speaker what they are. The stanza then moves back into a narrative of Twm’s life, alone on the farm.

The sixth stanza continues...

(The entire section is 470 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

R. S. Thomas’s use of rhyme and rhythm is not consistent throughout the poem, but he does use both. In the first stanza, for example, the first line does not rhyme with anything, but the second line rhymes with the third, the fourth with the fifth, and the sixth with the eleventh. While the lines tend to be about the same length, they are not always. Most of Thomas’s words are one or two syllables, with the stresses falling rather unevenly, giving the poem the rhythm of someone speaking instead of an obviously metrical beat. Thomas makes use of iambic rhythms, as in the lines, “And then at fourteen term ended and the lad was free,” and “And coax the mare that dragged the discordant plough,” but the lines do not contain an equal number of feet and do contain additional syllables that break up the rhythm. Thomas also uses the device of enjambment; his sentences and clauses are as likely to end in the middle of the line as at the end.

In terms of imagery, Thomas relies largely on nouns and verbs; even his metaphors are free of adjectives. When he describes a dead hawk whose “weedy entrails” are “Laced with bright water,” his language achieves its power through the unusual juxtaposition of two ordinary things: weeds and entrails, lace and water. The images are startling because unexpected, but the words themselves are quite ordinary. This adds a conversational tone to the poem; it also provides very specific and vivid descriptions for the...

(The entire section is 481 words.)