“Rage Against The Machine” | Memories of R.S. Thomas

Promenade of Llandudno, Wales

Promenade of Llandudno, Wales, November 1994

A saturated November wind washed Nancy’s face and mine as we strolled along the promenade of Llandudno, a seaside resort in north Wales. As we approached the bandstand, I could see that something had been scrawled in black ink on its Plexiglas enclosure. Close up, it commanded, “Rage against the machine,”

R. S. Thomas must have been here, I thought; if not with the spray can, then with the attitude that pressed its nozzle.

Two days later, our driver, Thomas himself, pointed out electricity-generating machines, modern windmills, on the island of Anglesey, saying that he preferred them to the nearby nuclear power station, but wished they didn’t disfigure the landscape. He especially disliked the “swaying / pylons with their metal / hair bickering towards England.”

As Thomas saw it, England had brought industrialization, the Machine, to Wales. Now, England expected the Welsh to use the Machine – windmills and power lines – to supply England with electricity.

Inverting the Bible story of the three Magi of the East traveling westward to the manger of Bethlehem, Thomas has a Welsh Magus of the West traveling eastward to the manger of England:

. . . Drove his course on
by the star in the east.
Arrived finding

the machine in the manger;
not one of the three
gifts he presented
restored to him but the myrrh.

The machine and its English tenders kept the expensive gifts the Welshman brought, gold and frankincense, but returned the myrrh to him, so that he could use it for the burial of all things traditionally Welsh.

According to Thomas, it was “the insatiable greed” in human beings – their lust for riches; their inordinate desire to appropriate another’s possessions – “that gave birth to machines and aeroplanes and missiles and all the technology of the contemporary world.”

“Rage against the machine.”

Poems and Prose of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:

“swaying / pylons with their metal / hair” – “Perspectives, Later Poems 1972-1982, 169.

“Drove his course on” – “Welshman’s Epitaph,” Welsh Airs, 42.

“the insatiable greed” – “No-One,” R. S. Thomas: Autobiographies, 108.

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