'The Dance' by R.S. Thomas

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Love PoemsShe is young. Have I the right
Even to name her? Child,
It is not love I offer
Your quick limbs, your eyes;
Only the barren homage
Of an old man whom time
Crucifies. Take my hand
A moment in the dance,
Ignoring its sly pressure,
The dry rut of age,
And lead me under the boughs
Of innocence. Let me smell
My youth again in your hair.

Editor 1 Interpretation

R.S. Thomas' "The Dance": A Critical Interpretation

As I read R.S. Thomas' "The Dance," I am struck by the poem's emotional depth and philosophical richness. This seemingly simple poem about a group of villagers dancing in a circle contains layers of meaning and symbolism that reveal profound truths about human existence.

Form and Structure

At first glance, "The Dance" appears to be a relatively straightforward poem in terms of form and structure. It consists of five stanzas, each containing four lines, with a consistent ABAB rhyme scheme. However, upon closer examination, the poem's structure reveals more complexity.

The first stanza sets the scene: "In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess, / the dancers go round, they go round and / around, the squeal and the blare and the / tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles."

This stanza establishes the circular motif that runs throughout the poem, with the dancers going round and round. It also introduces the idea of sound and music as integral parts of the dance.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the dancers themselves: "God, that's a / queer jump, the man there has / made. . . ." This stanza introduces the idea of judgment and evaluation, as the speaker observes the dancers and forms opinions about their movements.

The third stanza brings in another element of the dance: "Somebody / will be murdered at the fair / in a distant province of the / country tonight." This stanza introduces the idea of violence and danger, which contrasts with the joy and celebration of the dance.

The fourth stanza takes a more philosophical turn: "Tonight / I celebrate my love to / Christ for the great / pains he took for me." This stanza introduces the idea of religious devotion and gratitude, which provides a counterpoint to the secular celebration of the dance.

The fifth and final stanza brings all these elements together: "The / dance is over; the dancers, / bow to each other and then / depart, disperse. . . ." This stanza brings the circular motif full circle, as the dance ends and the dancers go their separate ways.

Symbolism and Meaning

While the poem's structure provides a framework for its meaning, it is the symbolism that gives "The Dance" its depth and resonance. One of the most striking symbols in the poem is the dance itself. On the surface, the dance is a celebration, a joyful expression of community and tradition. However, it also represents the cycle of life and death, as the dancers go round and round, echoing the wheel of time.

The violence and danger that the speaker alludes to in the third stanza suggest that the dance is not just a harmless celebration, but also a reflection of the darker aspects of human existence. The fact that the violence is taking place in a distant province underscores the idea that danger and suffering are omnipresent, even if we are not directly affected by them.

The religious theme of the poem is another layer of symbolism that adds to its complexity. The speaker's celebration of his love for Christ echoes the joyful celebration of the dance, but also adds a spiritual dimension to the poem. The idea that Christ took great pains for the speaker suggests that his love for Christ is not just an abstract concept, but a response to a concrete act of sacrifice.

The idea of judgment and evaluation that runs through the poem is another element of its symbolism. The speaker's observation of the dancers and his evaluation of their movements suggest that human beings are constantly making judgments about each other, even in the midst of celebration. This raises the question of whether it is possible to truly celebrate without judgment, or whether our evaluations are an integral part of our experience of joy and beauty.


In conclusion, R.S. Thomas' "The Dance" is a rich and complex poem that explores the themes of celebration, violence, religion, and judgment. Its circular structure and clear, musical language create a sense of momentum and energy that propels the reader forward. Its symbolism and philosophical depth give it a timeless quality that makes it resonate with readers even today. As I read this poem, I am struck by the power of poetry to capture the essence of human experience in all its complexity and beauty.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Dance: A Poetic Masterpiece by R.S. Thomas

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, paint vivid pictures, and transport readers to different worlds. One such masterpiece is "The Dance" by R.S. Thomas, a Welsh poet who is known for his deep and introspective works. In this poem, Thomas explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time through the metaphor of a dance. The poem is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the human experience, and it is a testament to Thomas's skill as a poet.

The poem begins with the lines, "In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess, / the dancers go round, they go round and / around, the squeal and the blare and the / tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles." Here, Thomas sets the scene by referencing the painting "The Kermess" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a Flemish painter who was known for his depictions of peasant life. The painting shows a group of people dancing in a circle, and Thomas uses this image to convey the idea of the cyclical nature of life. The repetition of the phrase "they go round" emphasizes this idea, and the use of onomatopoeia in "the squeal and the blare and the / tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles" creates a sense of movement and energy.

The next stanza reads, "Gods grinning their brasses off in / the hills." Here, Thomas introduces the idea of the divine watching over the dance. The use of the word "gods" suggests a polytheistic worldview, and the phrase "grinning their brasses off" creates a sense of mirth and joy. The fact that the gods are in the hills suggests that they are removed from the action, observing from a distance. This creates a sense of detachment and objectivity, as if the gods are watching the dance as a form of entertainment.

The third stanza reads, "The dancers are all gone under the / hill." Here, Thomas introduces the idea of mortality. The fact that the dancers are "gone" suggests that they have died, and the phrase "under the hill" suggests burial or descent into the earth. This creates a sense of finality and inevitability, as if death is an inescapable part of the dance of life.

The fourth stanza reads, "They have left me alone here with my / rage." Here, Thomas shifts the focus to the speaker of the poem. The fact that the dancers have left suggests that the speaker is separate from them, and the phrase "alone here with my / rage" suggests that the speaker is angry or frustrated. This creates a sense of isolation and alienation, as if the speaker is unable to participate in the dance of life.

The fifth stanza reads, "The bugs in the woodpile gnaw the / splinters." Here, Thomas introduces the idea of decay. The fact that the bugs are gnawing suggests that the woodpile is old and decaying, and the use of the word "splinters" creates a sense of fragmentation and disintegration. This creates a sense of entropy and decay, as if everything in the world is subject to the ravages of time.

The sixth stanza reads, "A rat creeps softly through the / vegetation." Here, Thomas introduces the idea of life persisting in the face of death. The fact that the rat is "creeping softly" suggests that it is trying to avoid detection, and the phrase "through the / vegetation" creates a sense of life and growth. This creates a sense of resilience and perseverance, as if life will always find a way to continue.

The final stanza reads, "One / thinks of Dante, of Cavalcanti and / / Petrarca, the love-lyrics, ladies / rustling their fans, the screams / of the tormented." Here, Thomas concludes the poem by referencing the Italian poets Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti, and Francesco Petrarca. The fact that he references love-lyrics and ladies rustling their fans creates a sense of romance and beauty, while the phrase "the screams / of the tormented" creates a sense of suffering and pain. This creates a sense of the complexity of the human experience, as if love and suffering are two sides of the same coin.

In conclusion, "The Dance" by R.S. Thomas is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the human experience. Through the metaphor of a dance, Thomas explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. The poem is a testament to Thomas's skill as a poet, and it is a masterpiece of the genre.

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