A study of "Evans", by

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An essay i did for Higher english in my fifth year at high school. Formatting is messed up.

Submitted: June 14, 2008

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Submitted: June 14, 2008

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Critical Essay of ‘Evans’

A poem that deals with an aspect of the less pleasant side of life is ‘Evans’ by R. S. Thomas. I will look at certain aspects of the poem such as word choice and imagery. ‘Evans’ is themed upon death, and how death is inescapable. ‘Evans’ starts off seemingly in the middle of a conversation. It goes on to detail the writer’s (speaker’s) experience with the man Evans. The writer had left Evans to die, and was trying to express regret to a possible listener. In ‘Evans’, an unpleasant side of life is immediately established. Thomas creates a bleak scene, coupled with a sense of former life being taken away: “Evans? Yes many a time I came down his bare flight Of stairs into the gaunt kitchen With its wood fire, where crickets sang” In the first line the question mark after ‘Evans?’ indicates to us that it is an answer to a question. This teases the reader, making them think about what was said beforehand. It is plausible to say that the speaker is being questioned about Evans, and his death, which is revealed to us later on. Thomas uses phrases such as ‘bare flight’ and ‘gaunt kitchen’ to create a sense of emptiness and despair, usually feelings which are associated with death and dying. The word gaunt is particularly suggestive towards death because it is normally related to humans, as well as a sense of a former life, now withered down to a bare existence. The personification is a very good technique used by Thomas to link the kitchen to the theme. The mention of ‘wood fire’ seems like a phrase with no extra meaning or intent, but a wood fire is reasonably old fashioned, and usually its only older people that might consider having one. This gives us food for thought about Evans himself. Evans may be quite old, and perhaps he is nearing the end of his life. Thomas’ word choice in the quote below paints us a vivid, and dramatic scene, along with a continued sense of an aspect of the less pleasant side of life: “Accompaniment to the black kettles Whine and so into the cold Dark to smother in the thick tide… Of his stark farm on the hill ridge” In this quote, use of the phrase ‘black kettles Whine’ is particularly implicit towards an unpleasant aspect of life, for several reasons. The first reason is that, the use of the word black, in front of kettle makes the kettle seem miserable, along with the kitchen and the whole setting. The word ‘black’ also may make us think of other things, which emphasise the theme of death, such as a funeral, and stereotypical mourning clothes. Secondly, the word whine (which is included in the quote) is a perfect example of how the word choice in ‘Evans’ is paramount to describing the less pleasant aspect of life, which is in this case, death. The word whine is defined as a long, high-pitched unpleasant sound, and its connotations are of, amongst others, pain and despair. The reason Thomas chose ‘whine’ over something like ‘whistle’ is so that when we hear ‘black kettles whine’ we immediately think of something more unpleasant or distressing than an innocent kettle’s whistle. Following that, the words cold (which has connotations of an inhospitable and unwelcoming environment), and dark (which has connotations of negativity) both indicate at a less pleasant aspect of life. Following that, the word stark before the word farm is to press on the less pleasant aspect of life. The word stark has a similar effect to the word gaunt, which was mentioned earlier. Then there is a break in the structure of the poem. This break is to highlight the writer/speaker’s change of focus from a description of setting in the first stanza, to a description of his guilt in the second stanza. Thomas continues his use of personification, and excellent word choice to display an aspect of the less pleasant side into the second stanza: “It was not the dark filling my eyes And mouth that appalled me; not even the drip Of rain like blood from the one tree Weather-tortured…” This extract has many details that allow us (the readers) to experience the speaker’s guilt. First off, Thomas gives substance to the word dark. He says “…dark filling my eyes and mouth”, which immediately enables you to visualize a threatening, evil environment. Many people would be frightened at the thought of darkness being given a physical substance, which is why Thomas has done so. This backs up that the idea of an aspect less pleasant side of life is death, and fear of death. Then, Thomas uses words and phrases that are simple and effective for relating to his theme of death, which is an aspect of the less pleasant side of life. For example, “drip of rain like blood” is very explicit when you read it, as blood has connotations of pain and suffering. This is easy for the reader to identify because it is a very obvious hint at the theme. It also makes the reader think of a sense of life ebbing away. Following that, Thomas writes “weather-tortured”, which is another rather obvious indication that this poem is dealing with an aspect of the less pleasant side of life. Thomas uses personification to create a scene in which a tree is worn down by the weather. But, by use of the word ‘tortured’, he has made the tree seem abused, and mal-treated. Thomas, dealing with, an aspect of the less pleasant side of life, ends the poem fittingly: “…it was the dark Silting the veins of that sick man I left stranded upon the vast And lonely shore of his bleak bed” Straightaway, death is strongly hinted at. The phrase “dark silting the veins” is one of the strongest hints in the poem. The word silting means to choke, and so, literally, darkness is choking this man’s veins. Adding on to that, veins carry blood around us. If something were to choke them, you would most likely die. This is a great use of word choice by Thomas. By saying, “dark silting the veins” instead of “A man was dying” he (Thomas) add a whole new dimension, in that the sick man wasn’t just dying, he was dying in a particularly painful manner. Use of the word ‘sick’ adds more pain and suffering toward the man’s death. The phrase “the vast and lonely” emphasizes upon the man’s pain, which is entirely comfortless. Finally, the repetition of the ‘b’ sound in “bleak bed” adds a sense of finality to the poem, effectively completing the description of the dying man. ‘Evans’ by RS Thomas is a very thought provoking poem, and it certainly influenced my thoughts and feelings towards the less pleasant side of life. I found it slightly distressing that anyone would die alone in a lot of pain. ‘Evans’ has definitely made me think about issues that hadn’t really crossed my mind before. I found it interesting that RS Thomas did not indicate whether or not Evans’ suffering ended after death, which in itself was disturbing. In conclusion, ‘Evans’ by RS Thomas is a poem which helped me to see death from a different perspective, and also it might make me think twice about leaving a sick or injured person alone.

Richard Tait Initial date of writing: 4/12/07 Publish Date: 14/06/08


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