Always seeking greater silence

Just a quick plug for a fascinating programme I heard on BBC Radio 3 last night about the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. It’s called Always Seeking Greater Silence and it is available on iPlayer for your listening pleasure.

Here’s an excerpt from the published description of the programme:

RS Thomas was a man full of contradictions, but one constant was his passion for birdwatching. Towards the end of his life he said that ‘the deity has chosen to reveal himself to me via the world of nature’. He also declared that he preferred to be alone with nature than be with human beings. Bird imagery in particular provided him with a means of symbolising renewal, nourishment and femininity in his poetry, but also of exploring his faith in God. Increasingly towards the end of his life, his bird poems explored the space between faith and doubt. In ‘Sea-watching,’ he directly associates bird-watching with prayer: ‘Ah, but a rare bird is/ rare. It is when one is not looking/ at times one is not there/ that it comes’.

I have the utmost admiration for R.S. Thomas as a poet, but I do wonder how effective he was as a priest looking after his flock when he could come out with statements like the following:

I’ve had more pleasure from being alone with the natural creation than I have with human beings. Human beings are responsible for so much unhappiness and cruelty and failure that one is not terribly enthusiastic about them.

This rather bleak view of humanity explains to some extent why so many of his poems are about the natural world rather than people, but he is unlike many other “nature poets” in that his voice is unflinching and devoid of sentimentality. Although not religious myself, I also deeply respect his openness about his struggle with faith and doubt – he seems to me to have been a man who was deeply allergic to superficiality, a trait which also manifests itself in his verse.

It is the centenary of the birth of R.S. Thomas on 29th March 2013. I hope I remember to mark the occasion with an appropriate poem.

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2 Responses to “Always seeking greater silence”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    Unfortunately, I only caught part of the programme on Radio 3 last night, because of an interruption by a telephone call. I may try to listen to the part I missed using the BBC website.

    R. S. Thomas certainly did not always provide the level of sociability expected of a parish priest. I found the stories recounted in Byron Rogers’s biography The Man Who Went Into the West very interesting and entertaining.

    • telescoper Says:

      I forgot to mention that it was also nice to hear the voice of Gwyneth Lewis on the programme. She wrote the words that appear on the Wales Millennium Centre, among many other things.

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