I was vicar of large things

It seems appropriate to post something today – Good Friday – from the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. An Anglican clergyman, Thomas was vicar at St Hywyn’s Church (which was built 1137) in Aberdaron at the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. In this, one of his most famous poems, he speaks eloquently and movingly of the frustrations of his calling. I also managed to find a recording of the poet himself reading it.

and here is the text

I was vicar of large things
in a small parish. Small-minded
I will not say, there were depths
in some of them I shrank back
from, wells that the word “God”
fell into and died away,
and for all I know is still
falling. Who goes for water
to such must prepare for a long
wait. Their eyes looked at me
and were the remains of flowers
on an old grave. I was there,
I felt, to blow on ashes
that were too long cold. Often,
when I thought they were about
to unbar to me, the draught
out of their empty places
came whistling so that I wrapped
myself in the heavier clothing
of my calling, speaking of light and love
in the thickening shadows of their kitchens


2 Responses to “I was vicar of large things”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    From some of the things he says (and I mean about himself, not his parishioners) I worry about his ministry, but as a poet he is sheer genius.

    I’m just back from an Eastern Orthodox service for Great and Holy (= Good) Friday, which the Orthodox commemorate at dusk with a funeral procession for Christ; I have friends of that Christian tradition. In Britain it deserves to be remembered that the Greek-speaking eastern half of the old Roman Empire, the heartland of Eastern Orthodoxy after the 1054 schism with Rome, never went through a Dark Age as the West did.


    PS RS Thomas doesn’t SOUND very Welsh…

  2. telescoper Says:

    He certainly doesn’t sound Welsh .. I couldn’t detect even a trace in that reading. He didn’t learn to speak Welsh until he was around 30, but even so I would have expected some accent. On the other hand he was brought up in Cardiff and I know many people born and raised here who don’t really have a Welsh accent…

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