'The Woman' by R.S. Thomas

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So beautiful--God himself quailed
at her approach: the long body curved
like the horizon. Why had he made
her so? How would it be, she said,
leaning towards him, if instead of
quarreling over it, we divided it
between us? You can have all the credit
for its invention, if you will leave the ordering
of it to me. He looked into her
eyes and saw far down the bones
of the generations that would navigate
by those great stars, but the pull of it
was too much. Yes, he thought, give me their minds'
tribute, and what they do with their bodies
is not my concern. He put his hand in his side
and drew out the thorn for the letting
of the ordained blood and touched her with
it. Go, he said. They shall come to you for ever
with their desire, and you shall bleed for them in return.

Submitted by Gnute

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Power and Mystery of R.S. Thomas’ "The Woman"

As a masterful poet and renowned Anglican clergyman, R.S. Thomas wrote with an unflinching honesty and spiritual depth that captivated readers with its intensity, wisdom, and beauty. In his poem "The Woman," Thomas explores the complex relationship between humanity and divinity, using a powerful metaphor that elevates womanhood and challenges the patriarchal assumptions of religious tradition.

Overview of the Poem

"The Woman" is a short but deeply resonant poem that uses a simple image to convey a profound message. The poem consists of a single stanza composed of four lines, with a consistent ABAB rhyme scheme. The poem's title refers to the central image of a woman kneeling in a church, with her face lifted towards the altar. The poem's first two lines describe the woman's posture and demeanor, emphasizing her humility and devotion:

She is the altar where his love burns.

These lines create a powerful contrast between the woman's physical presence and her spiritual significance. The woman is not simply a passive object or decoration in the church; she is the altar itself, the sacred space where the divine fire of love is kindled and sustained. The use of the masculine pronoun "his" suggests that the woman's devotion is directed towards God, or some other transcendent figure.

The poem's final two lines shift the focus from the woman's physicality to her spiritual essence:

She is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Here, the woman is not just a receptacle for divine love, but a source of light and hope for those who seek salvation. The image of the "tunnel" suggests a journey or struggle towards enlightenment or liberation, and the woman's presence offers a glimpse of the ultimate goal. The use of the present tense ("is") suggests that the woman's role is ongoing and timeless, not limited to a particular historical or cultural context.

Analysis of the Poem

"The Woman" is notable for its use of metaphor, which allows Thomas to convey complex ideas and emotions through simple and concrete images. The central metaphor of the woman as altar is particularly powerful, as it challenges the traditional notion of the altar as a male-dominated space that represents divine authority and power. By associating the altar with a woman, Thomas subverts this patriarchal hierarchy and emphasizes the inclusive and nurturing aspects of divinity. The woman is not just a passive vessel for God's love, but an active participant in the divine process.

Furthermore, the metaphor of the woman as light suggests a mystical and transformative power that transcends gender and physicality. The use of the word "tunnel" implies a journey or quest, and the woman's presence offers a sense of guidance and illumination. The fact that the woman is described as "the" light, rather than a light, suggests a singular and essential quality that is not dependent on context or circumstance.

The poem's form and language also contribute to its impact. The concise and rhythmic structure of the poem creates a sense of urgency and intensity, as if each word and syllable were essential to the message. The use of rhyme and repetition reinforces the poem's musicality and creates a sense of unity and coherence. The language is spare and direct, with no extraneous detail or ornamentation, which emphasizes the poem's spiritual focus and reinforces the metaphorical imagery.

Interpretation of the Poem

Although "The Woman" is a brief and seemingly simple poem, its message is deep and multifaceted. At its core, the poem celebrates the power and mystery of the feminine aspect of divinity, and challenges the patriarchal assumptions and limitations of religious tradition. By associating the woman with the altar and the light, Thomas suggests that the divine is not just a distant and masculine authority, but an immanent and nurturing presence that is accessible to all.

Moreover, the poem suggests that the feminine aspect of divinity offers a pathway to enlightenment and liberation that is distinct from, and complementary to, the masculine aspect. The image of the tunnel implies a sense of struggle or darkness that requires guidance and illumination, and the woman's presence offers a sense of hope and possibility. The fact that the woman is described as "the" light suggests that her role is central and essential, not peripheral or incidental.

Finally, the poem suggests that the relationship between humanity and divinity is not one of domination or control, but of mutual respect and cooperation. The woman is not just a passive object or recipient of divine love, but an active participant and mediator. The fact that the woman is kneeling, rather than standing or sitting, suggests a posture of humility and submission, but also of strength and devotion. The fact that the woman is looking upwards, towards the altar, suggests a sense of aspiration and connection, but also of transcendence and mystery.


In "The Woman," R.S. Thomas offers a profound and beautiful meditation on the power and mystery of the feminine aspect of divinity, and its role in guiding and inspiring humanity towards enlightenment and liberation. The poem's rich metaphorical imagery, concise form, and direct language create a sense of urgency and intensity that resonates long after the poem has been read. Whether read as a religious text, a feminist manifesto, or a poetic masterpiece, "The Woman" is a testament to the enduring power and beauty of R.S. Thomas' vision.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Woman by R.S. Thomas is a classic poem that explores the complexities of human relationships and the struggle to find meaning in life. This poem is a powerful and thought-provoking piece that delves into the themes of love, loss, and the search for identity.

The poem begins with a description of a woman who is walking alone in the countryside. The speaker observes her from a distance and is struck by her beauty and grace. He describes her as "a woman alone / In the country of her own silence." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is filled with a sense of loneliness and isolation.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to reflect on the woman's life and the struggles she must face. He imagines her as a young girl, full of hope and dreams, but now worn down by the hardships of life. He describes her as "a woman who has lost / Her youth and her beauty." This line is particularly poignant, as it speaks to the universal experience of aging and the loss of youth.

The speaker then goes on to describe the woman's inner turmoil. He imagines her as someone who is searching for meaning and purpose in her life, but is unable to find it. He writes, "She is searching for something / That she cannot name." This line captures the essence of the human experience, as we all struggle to find our place in the world and make sense of our existence.

The poem then takes a turn, as the speaker begins to reflect on his own life and the struggles he has faced. He writes, "I too have searched / For what I cannot name." This line is a powerful reminder that we are all in this together, and that the search for meaning and purpose is a universal human experience.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. The speaker imagines the woman as someone who has found peace and contentment in her life, despite the struggles she has faced. He writes, "She has found her place / In the scheme of things." This line is a beautiful reminder that even in the midst of hardship and struggle, it is possible to find peace and contentment.

Overall, The Woman by R.S. Thomas is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complexities of human relationships and the struggle to find meaning in life. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Thomas captures the essence of the human experience and reminds us that we are all in this together. This poem is a timeless classic that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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