Thomas’s biographer Byron Rogers speculated that the bitter contempt exhibited in some the poems was provoked by the loneliness and alienation of the poet. After studying at university in Bangor and being ordained as an Anglican priest, Thomas took up the living of the remote parish of Manafon in Powys. Whatever romantic notions the young man had about life on Welsh hill farms must have been rapidly dispelled.
The loneliness is everywhere in the poems. Partly that of the priest in the lonely parish, cut off by his learning and his cloth, it is also the result of personal choice. ‘I had one or two friends at Bangor, but we didn’t keep in touch after. I haven’t got any now.’
Byron Rogers (2006). The Man Who Went Into the West, p. 8. London: Aurum.
Thomas’s subjects were not just his fellow countrymen, but his own parishioners and neighbours, and his insensitivity to them seems quite extraordinary. Perhaps he thought that ‘Iago Prytherch’ and ‘Llew Puw’ did not read or listen to poetry.
In 1998, forty-four years after he had left the village and two years before his death. R. S. Thomas came back to Manafon. […] But there was something even more remarkable about the visit. He had come to read his poems. ‘I had heard him read before,’ said Dr Glyn Tegai Hughes, who was there that night. ‘It was at Gregynog, and he said they would be in two sections, first the poems about Wales, then those about God. There would, he went on, be an interval. During the interval a very young girl got up and said, “What would you like to happen to Wales, Mr Thomas?” He said, “Send the English back, then concrete everything over.” “But what would you have to write about then, Mr Thomas?” He said, “This is probably a good time to go on to the second part.”
‘But the Manafon reading, that was an unusual event, at least that is how I remember it. There was certainly a feeling among some of the people there, it wasn’t just my feeling, that he owed some explanation to the people of Manafon.’ […]
The only thing was, his audience were the children of people whose half-witted grins1 he had described; he had talked about the frightening vacancy of their minds,2 mentioned their skulls,3 laughed at the hill-farmers of his parish on their brand-new tractors,4 and shown his readers around poverty-stricken home after poverty-stricken home.5 Some of those poems he read.
‘It was insensitive, you might say,’ said Hazel Boulton. ‘One of the poems he chose to read was about a man dying with his face to the wall.6 His people were in the church that night.’
Rogers, pp. 172–173.
1.,2. ‘A Peasant’ 3. ‘A Welsh Testament’ 4. ‘On The Farm’ 5. for example, ‘Evans’ 6. ‘Death of a Peasant’
The question asks, “How did Thomas reconcile his nationalistic sentiments with these extremely dim views of the Welsh?” Thomas’s response, “Send the English back, then concrete everything over” suggests that the answer might be that his nationalism was rooted in hatred of the English rather than love of the Welsh.