Three Poems by R. S. Thomas


The new explorers don’t go
anywhere and what they discover
we can’t see. But they change our lives.

They interpret absence
as presence, measuring it by the movement
of its neighbours. Their world is

an immense place: deep down is as distant
as far out, but is arrived at
in no time. These are the new

linguists, exchanging acrosss closed
borders the currency of their symbols.
Have I been too long on my knees

worrying over the obscurity
of a message? These have their way, too,
other than a prayer of breaking that abstruse code.

Night Sky

What they are saying is
that there is life there, too:
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.

They have gone on from the human:
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind

of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness

that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow

traveller, but there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.

The New Mariner

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? For me now
there is only the God-space
into which I send out
my probes. 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. An astronaut
on impossible journeys
to the far side of the self
I return with the messages
I cannot decipher, garrulous
about them, worrying the ear
of the passer-by, hot on his way
to the marriage of plain fact with plain fact.

(by Ronald Stuart Thomas)


7 Responses to “Three Poems by R. S. Thomas”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    He’s [was] a genius.

  2. telescoper Says:

    Apparently he was thought to be in the running for the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1990s, but it went to Seamus Heaney. Now of course he can’t win it. He died in 2000.

    I’ve been reading his collected poems and picked those three out because they seemed appropriate. I woder, though, why he doesn’t seem to have written any poems in Welsh?

  3. Bryn Jones Says:

    R. S. Thomas was a brilliant poet. I love the economy of his work, how he chose each word very carefully to express his meaning exactly. Of course, the meaning is not always immediately obvious to the reader.

    He learnt Welsh as a young adult. Although he became fluent in it, he felt he had not mastered the language sufficiently to be able to write worthwhile poetry in it. He therefore wrote in English.

  4. […] link: Three Poems by R. S. Thomas « In the Dark Tags: absence-as-presence, interpret-absence, lives, movement, new-explorers, Poems, […]

  5. Rhodri Evans Says:

    I just wanted to add to what Bryn said. Thomas learnt Welsh as an adult. Although he became functionally fluent it was not the language of his heart. When I’d hear him speak in Welsh I could tell it was not natural to him, he was translating. As you probably know Peter he wrote many Nationalistic poems and became a keen advocate of the Adfer movement.

  6. As Rhodri guessed, RST only learned Welsh at the age of 30, so wasn’t confident, but I’ve seen one short poem he wrote in Welsh for a welsh language magazine, so there may be a few others

  7. Thomas was indeed a great poet. It is true he started to learn Welsh at his thirty, but he never felt it was his first language. English was always his first language. Nevertheless, his poetry celebrated Wales, her people and culture. He wrote poetry for about 60 years, in the first half of his poetic journey he wrote about Welsh hill farmers, their appearances, attitudes, and relationship to the land. In the second half, he wrote many nationalistic poems and spiritual poems.

    He wrote his autobiographical essays in Welsh, and only one poem in Welsh ( according to his biography writer Rogers).

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