R. S. Thomas

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I have been all men known to history,
Wondering at the world and at time passing;
I have seen evil, and the light blessing
Innocent love under a spring sky.

Ronald Stuart Thomas (29 March 191325 September 2000), published as R. S. Thomas, was a Welsh poet and Anglican Clergyman, noted for his nationalism and spirituality.

Quotes[edit]

"Who am I?", and the answer now came more emphatically than ever before, "No-one."
But a no-one with a crown of light about his head.
You have to imagine
a waiting that is not impatient
because it is timeless.
The
thought comes
of that other being who is
awake, too,
letting our prayers break on him,
not like this for a few hours,
but for days, years, for eternity.
The world needs the unifying power of the imagination. The two things that give it best are poetry and religion.
I think that so much of our Christian beliefs ... are an attempt to convey through language something which is unsayable.
  • The nearest we approach God…is as creative beings. The poet, by echoing the primary imagination, recreates. Through his work he forces those who read him to do the same, thus bringing them... nearer to the actual being of God as displayed in action.
    • The Penguin Book of Religious Verse (1963), p. 8
  • Any form of orthodoxy is just not part of a poet's province ... A poet must be able to claim ... freedom to follow the vision of poetry, the imaginative vision of poetry ... And in any case, poetry is religion, religion is poetry. The message of the New Testament is poetry. Christ was a poet, the New Testament is metaphor, the Resurrection is a metaphor; and I feel perfectly within my rights in approaching my whole vocation as priest and preacher as one who is to present poetry; and when I preach poetry I am preaching Christianity, and when one discusses Christianity one is discussing poetry in its imaginative aspects. ... My work as a poet has to deal with the presentation of imaginative truth.
    • "R. S. Thomas : Priest and Poet" (BBC TV, 2 April 1972)
  • Imaginative truth is the most immediate way of presenting ultimate reality to a human being ... ultimate reality is what we call God.
    • "R. S. Thomas : Priest and Poet" (BBC TV, 2 April 1972)
  • On seeing his shadow fall on such ancient rocks, he had to question himself in a different context and ask the same old question as before, "Who am I?", and the answer now came more emphatically than ever before, "No-one."
    But a no-one with a crown of light about his head.
    He would remember a verse from Pindar: "Man is a dream about a shadow. But when some splendour falls upon him from God, a glory comes to him and his life is sweet."
    • Neb [No-one] (1985)
  • You have to imagine
    a waiting that is not impatient
    because it is timeless.
    • "The Echoes Return Slow" in The Echoes Return Slow (1988)
  • I lie
    in the lean hours awake listening
    to the swell born somewhere in
    the Atlantic
    rising and falling, rising and
    falling
    wave on wave on the long shore
    by the village that is without
    light
    and companionless. And the
    thought comes
    of that other being who is
    awake, too,
    letting our prayers break on him,
    not like this for a few hours,
    but for days, years, for eternity.
    • "The Other" in The Echoes Return Slow (1988)
  • Let despair be known
    as my ebb-tide; but let prayer
    have its springs, too, brimming,
    disarming him; discovering somewhere
    among his fissures deposits of mercy
    where trust may take root and grow.
    • "Tidal" in Mass for Hard Times (1992), p. 43
  • I'm obviously not orthodox, I don't know how many real poets have ever been orthodox.
    • "R. S. Thomas in conversation with Molly Price-Owen." in The David Jones Journal R. S. Thomas Special Issue (Summer/Autumn 2001)
  • I wouldn't say that I'm an orthodox Christian at all and the longer we live in the twentieth century the more fantastic discoveries are made, the more we hear what the universe is like I find it very difficult to be a kind of orthodox believer in Jesus as my saviour and that sort of thing. I'm more interested in the extraordinary nature of God. If there is God, if there is deity, then He, even as the old hymn says, He moves in a mysterious way and I'm fascinated by that mystery and I've tried to write out of that experience of God, the fantastic side of God, the quarrel between the conception of God as a person, as having a human side, and the conception of God as being so extraordinary. ... So these are still things that occupy me, and every now and again, if you're lucky, you're able to make a poem out of this conception of God ... so I suppose I'm trying to appeal to people to open their eyes and their minds to the extraordinary nature of God.
    • "R. S. Thomas in conversation with Molly Price-Owen" in The David Jones Journal R. S. Thomas Special Issue (Summer/Autumn 2001)
  • True Christianity at its most profound is as good as you get. ... I think I've been lucky in the period which I've lived through because obviously I would have been for the chop in earlier days. The Inquisition would have rooted me out; even in the 19th century I would probably have been had up by a Bishop and asked to change my views, or to keep them to myself etc.... I think that so much of our Christian beliefs ... are an attempt to convey through language something which is unsayable.
    • "R. S. Thomas in conversation with Molly Price-Owen" in The David Jones Journal R. S. Thomas Special Issue (Summer/Autumn 2001)

Poetry For Supper (1958)[edit]

Sunlight's a thing that needs a window
Before it enter a dark room.
Windows don't happen.
God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.
A slow singer, but loading each phrase
With history’s overtones, love, joy
And grief learned by his dark tribe
In other orchards and passed on
Instinctively as they are now,
But fresh always with new tears.
  • "Verse should be as natural
    As the small tuber that feeds on muck
    And grows slowly from obtuse soil
    To the white flower of immortal beauty
    "
    • "Poetry For Supper"
  • "Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer
    Said once about the long toil
    that goes like blood to the poems making? Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls,
    Limp as bindweed, if it break at all
    Life's iron crust
    Man, you must sweat
    And rhyme your guts taut, if you'd build
    Your verse a ladder.
    "
    • "Poetry For Supper"
  • "Sunlight's a thing that needs a window
    Before it enter a dark room.
    Windows don't happen."

    So two old poets,
    Hunched at their beer in the low haze
    Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran
    Noisily by them, glib with prose.
    • "Poetry For Supper"
  • They left no books,
    Memorial to their lonely thought
    In grey parishes: rather they wrote
    On men's hearts and in the minds
    Of young children sublime words
    Too soon forgotten. God in his time
    Or out of time will correct this.
    • "The Country Clergy"
  • It seems wrong that out of this bird,
    Black, bold, a suggestion of dark
    Places about it, there yet should come
    Such rich music, as though the notes’
    Ore were changed to a rare metal
    At one touch of that bright bill.
    • "A Blackbird Singing"
  • A slow singer, but loading each phrase
    With history’s overtones, love, joy
    And grief learned by his dark tribe
    In other orchards and passed on
    Instinctively as they are now,
    But fresh always with new tears.
    • "A Blackbird Singing"

Song at the Year's Turning (1955)[edit]

Song at the Year's Turning : Poems, 1942-1954
He arose, pacing the floor
Strewn with books, his mind big with the poem
Soon to be born, his nerves tense to endure
The long torture of delayed birth.
King, beggar and fool, I have been all by turns,
Knowing the body’s sweetness, the mind’s treason;
Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen,
Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart’s need.
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance...
  • He arose, pacing the floor
    Strewn with books, his mind big with the poem
    Soon to be born, his nerves tense to endure
    The long torture of delayed birth.
    • "A Person From Porlock"
  • Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long,
    And saw love in a dark crown
    Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
    Golden with fruit of a man's body.
    • "In a Country Church"
  • I have been Merlin wandering in the woods
    Of a far country, where the winds waken
    Unnatural voices, my mind broken
    By a sudden acquaintance with man’s rage.
    • "Taliesin 1952"
  • I have known exile and a wild passion
    Of longing changing to a cold ache.
    King, beggar and fool, I have been all by turns,
    Knowing the body’s sweetness, the mind’s treason;
    Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen,
    Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart’s need.
    • "Taliesin 1952"
  • We live in our own world,
    A world that is too small
    For you to stoop and enter
    Even on hands and knees,
    The adult subterfuge.
    • "Children’s Song"
  • You cannot find the centre
    Where we dance
    , where we play,
    Where life is still asleep
    Under the closed flower,
    Under the smooth shell
    Of eggs in the cupped nest
    That mock the faded blue
    Of your remoter heaven.
    • "Children’s Song"

Tares (1961)[edit]

All right, I was Welsh, does it matter?
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hand of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night.
Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain's
Missiles.
History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.
I am a man now.
Pass your hand over my brow.
You can feel the place where the brains grow.
I am like a tree,
From my top boughs I can see
The footprints that led up to me.
It is too late to start
For destinations not of the heart.
I must stay here with my hurt.
  • All right, I was Welsh. Does it matter?
    I spoke a tongue that was passed on
    To me in the place I happened to be,
    A place huddled between grey walls
    Of cloud for at least half the year.
    My word for heaven was not yours.
    The word for hell had a sharp edge
    Put on it by the hand of the wind
    Honing, honing with a shrill sound
    Day and night. Nothing that Glyn Dwr
    Knew was armour against the rain's
    Missiles. What was descent from him?
    • "A Welsh Testament"
  • Even God had a Welsh name:
    He spoke to him in the old language
    ;
    He was to have a peculiar care
    For the Welsh people. History showed us
    He was too big to be nailed to the wall
    Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
    Between the boards of a black book.
    • "A Welsh Testament"
  • Yet men sought us despite this.
    My high cheek-bones, my length of skull
    Drew them as to a rare portrait
    By a dead master. I saw them stare
    From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
    In ewes and wethers. I saw them stand
    By the thorn hedges, watching me string
    The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
    And always there was their eyes; strong
    Pressure on me: You are Welsh, they said;
    Speak to us so; keep your fields free
    Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
    Of hot tractors; we must have peace
    And quietness.
    • "A Welsh Testament"
  • Is a museum
    Peace?
    I asked. Am I the keeper
    Of the heart's relics, blowing the dust
    In my own eyes? I am a man;
    I never wanted the drab role
    Life assigned me, an actor playing
    To the past's audience upon a stage
    Of earth and stone; the absurd label
    Of birth, of race hanging askew
    About my shoulders. I was in prison
    Until you came; your voice was a key
    Turning in the enormous lock
    Of hopelessness. Did the door open
    To let me out or yourselves in?
    • "A Welsh Testament"
  • I am a man now.
    Pass your hand over my brow.
    You can feel the place where the brains grow.
    • "Here"
  • I am like a tree,
    From my top boughs I can see
    The footprints that led up to me.
    • "Here"
  • There is blood in my veins
    That has run clear of the stain
    Contracted in so many loins.
    • "Here"
  • Why, then, are my hands red
    with the blood of so many dead?
    Is this where I was mislead?
    • "Here"
  • Why are my hands this way
    That they will not do as i say?
    Does no God hear when I pray?
    • "Here"
  • I have nowhere to go.
    The swift satellites show
    The clock of my whole being is slow.
    • "Here"
  • It is too late to start
    For destinations not of the heart.
    I must stay here with my hurt.
    • "Here"

The Bread of Truth (1963)[edit]

The deep spaces between stars,
Fathomless as the cold shadow
His mind cast.

Pietá (1966)[edit]

  • She 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.
    • "The Dance"

Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)[edit]

It is alive. It is you,
God. Looking out I can see
no death.
The darkness
is the deepening shadow
of your presence...
Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush...
  • Deliver me from the long drought
    of the mind.
    Let leaves
    from the deciduous Cross
    fall on us, washing
    us clean, turning our autumn
    to gold by the affluence of their fountain.
    • "Prayer", p. 10
  • It is alive. It is you,
    God. Looking out I can see
    no death.
    The earth moves, the
    sea moves, the wind goes
    on its exuberant
    journeys. Many creatures
    reflect you, the flowers
    your color, the tides the precision
    of your calculations. There
    is nothing too ample
    for you to overflow, nothing
    so small that your workmanship
    is not revealed.
    • "Alive", p. 51
  • The darkness
    is the deepening shadow
    of your presence; the silence a
    process in the metabolism
    of the being of love.
    • "Alive", p. 51
  • Life is not hurrying
    on to a receding future, nor hankering after
    an imagined past. It is the turning
    aside like Moses to the miracle
    of the lit bush, to a brightness
    that seemed as transitory as your youth
    once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
    • "The Bright Field", p. 60

Frequencies (1978)[edit]

A power guided my hand.
It was not
I who lived, but life rather
that lived me.
  • Sometimes a strange light
    shines, purer than the moon,
    casting no shadow, that is
    the halo upon the bones
    of the pioneers who died for truth.
    • "Groping", p. 12
  • There was a larger pattern
    we worked at: they on a big
    loom, I with a small needle.
    • "In Context", p.13
  • A power guided my hand. If an invisible company
    waited to see what I would do,
    I in my own way asked for
    direction, so we should journey together
    a little nearer the accomplishment
    of the design.
    • "In Context"
  • It was not
    I who lived, but life rather
    that lived me.
    • "In Context"
  • Is there a place
    here for the spirit? Is there time
    on this brief platform for anything
    other than mind's failure to explain itself?
    • "Balance", p. 49

Between Here and Now (1981)[edit]

Art is recuperation from time. I lie back convalescing upon the prospect of a harvest already at hand.
Ah, what balance is needed at the edges of such an abyss.
What to do but, like Michelangelo’s Adam, put my hand out into unknown space, hoping for the reciprocating touch?
  • Art is recuperation
    from time. I lie back
    convalescing upon the prospect
    of a harvest already at hand.
    • "Pissaro: Kitchen Garden, Trees in Bloom", p. 41
  • In the silence
    that is his chosen medium
    of communication and telling
    others about it
    in words. Is there no way
    not to be the sport
    of reason?
    • "The New Mariner", p. 99
  • I had looked forward
    to old age as a time
    of quietness, a time to draw
    my horizons about me,
    to watch memories ripening
    in the sunlight of a walled garden.
    But there is the void
    over my head and the distance
    within that the tireless signals
    come from. And astronaut
    on impossible journeys
    to the far side of the self
    I return with messages
    I cannot decipher.
    • "The New Mariner", p. 99
  • Ah, what balance is needed at
    the edges of such an abyss.

    I am left alone on the surface
    of a turning planet. What

    to do but, like Michelangelo’s
    Adam, put my hand
    out into unknown space,
    hoping for the reciprocating touch?

    • "Threshold", p. 110

Later Poems (1983)[edit]

What was the shell doing,
on the shore? An ear endlessly
drinking?
  • What was the shell doing,
    on the shore? An ear endlessly
    drinking?
    What? Sound? Silence?
    Which came first?
    Listen.
    • "Questions"

No Truce with the Furies (1995)[edit]

  • Blessings, Stevens;
    I stand with my back to grammar
    At an altar you never aspired
    to, celebrating the sacrament
    of the imagination whose high-priest
    notwithstanding you are.
    • "Homage to Wallace Stevens"

Quotes about Thomas[edit]

In Christian terms, Thomas is not a poet of the transfiguration, of the resurrection, of human holiness ... He is a poet of the cross, the unanswered prayer, the bleak trek through darkness. ~ A. E. Dyson
Thomas offers a “sustained critique” not of Romanticism, but of a world that has “eroded away”— a world that has abandoned Romantic imagination. ~ Daniel Westover
Thomas finds the God of nature elusive, but when He reveals Himself, he does so through the natural world. ~ Daniel Westover
Thomas is the Solzhenitsyn of Wales; a writer of violent integrity, conscience-stricken at the state of his country, haunted still by the image of it he saw as a child.
  • He was wonderful, very pure, very bitter but the bitterness was beautifully and very sparely rendered. He was completely authoritative, a very, very fine poet, completely off on his own, out of the loop but a real individual. It's not about being a major or minor poet. It's about getting a work absolutely right by your own standards and he did that wonderfully well.
  • His example reduces most modern verse to footling whimsy.
    • Kingsley Amis, in 1956, as quoted in A Guide to Twentieth Century Literature in English (1983)
  • Thomas is not a Wordsworthian poet, and his “nature” is not Wordsworth’s; it is history, rather than divinity, which he responds to most, in the bleak beauty of Wales. In Christian terms, Thomas is not a poet of the transfiguration, of the resurrection, of human holiness ... He is a poet of the cross, the unanswered prayer, the bleak trek through darkness.
    • A. E. Dyson, in Yeats, Eliot, and R.S. Thomas : Riding the Echo (1981), p. 296
  • In nature, it is divinity, rather than history, which Thomas responds to most. ... Thomas finds the God of nature elusive, but when He reveals Himself, he does so through the natural world. God’s reflection, His shadow, and His echo exist in the Welsh hills. His influence there is both a presence and an absence (and, at times, an absence that is like a presence).
    • Daniel Westover, in "A God of Grass and Pen : R.S. Thomas and the Romantic Imagination" in North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Vol. 3, 2 (Summer 2003)
  • Thomas continues to believe that somewhere beyond God’s metaphoric manifestations, somewhere beyond the questions and sufferings, there is an actual God — inexplicably, even intentionally absent — but real, and one day He may permanently end "the long drought of the mind."
    • Daniel Westover, in "A God of Grass and Pen : R.S. Thomas and the Romantic Imagination" in North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Vol. 3, 2 (Summer 2003)
  • Another uncompromising poet whom Betjeman greatly admired was R. S. Thomas who has been described as the Solzhenitsyn of Wales "because he was a troubler of the Welsh conscience."
  • Thomas is the Solzhenitsyn of Wales; a writer of violent integrity, conscience-stricken at the state of his country, haunted still by the image of it he saw as a child.
    • Award ceremony dedication (6 July 2000) published in "R.S. Thomas : A Tribute" in The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorian (2000)

External links[edit]

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