The one field that had treasure in it

Thoughts on a poem by R.S. Thomas

Posted on July 18, 2020
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
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 you.
R.S. Thomas


I like the switch. The poet has turned Jesus’ metaphor of a field back into a literal field. And in doing that has not diminished the imagery but expanded it. If the rare and valuable treasure of life is found in the simple pleasures of savouring the way the light hits an actual field in a certain way then that valuable snippet of time can be seen as a precursor of “the eternity that awaits you”. 

It’s a nice thought. Obviously very disconnected from the gritty reality of our current existence but I think that’s kinda the point. He highlights how easy it is to get distracted and to quickly brush past those moments of beauty. The poet is confessing that he is prone to ignore these momentary miracles; probably because his thoughts are consumed with either the future or the past. And so the author wants to reject a focus on the future - thats not life. Neither is a focus on the past, as if we can be trusted to accurately portray that with our imaginative minds. Instead he wants to commit himself to noticing the small glimpses of beauty when they appear. If the sun breaking through onto a field is the one moment when the author becomes aware of the presence of God, then that is also the one moment that more accurately represents REAL life. And it’s the one moment that helps us comprehend our eternity.

What was it that Moses said to God when he encountered the Burning Bush [Exodus 3:4]? It was a response that was thoroughly in the moment. Moses couldn’t ask God to wait because he was busy planning for the future or dealing with his guilty past. And neither can we. Instead, as soon as Moses noticed the presence of God, his only appropriate response was:

“Here I am”