A Century of R.S. Thomas

It’s Good Friday, and it’s also a hundred years to the day since the birth of the great Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas. I thought I’d mark the centenary in a small way by posting one of his most famous poems, A Blackbird Singing

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.

You have heard it often, alone at your desk
In a green April, your mind drawn
Away from its work by sweet disturbance
Of the mild evening outside your room.

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.

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5 Responses to “A Century of R.S. Thomas”

  1. According to Wikipedia, “Anglican priest who was noted for his nationalism, spirituality and deep dislike of the anglicisation of Wales”. Considering that the Anglican church was formed by an English king, this seems a bit strange. OK, I realize that Henry VIII wasn’t thinking of Wales when he broke with Rome, but it still seems something of a contradiction.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Although Welsh, he was not brought up speaking the language; he learned it when he was 30. He became a churchman many years before that, and probably the Anglican church in Wales was the only one open to him with that constraint.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      R. S. Thomas was a big bag of contradictions. He was strongly supportive of the Welsh language for much of his adult life and criticised people who moved to Wales who refused to learn it, yet he did not teach Welsh to his son and sent him to a school in England.

      Thomas was brought up in a family dominated by his mother, who was a woman strongly influenced by the British class system. She identified with English values, not Welsh. Thomas appears to have adopted this outlook as a young man, but then dramatically altered as he matured.

      The character of the Anglican Church in Wales changed strongly through the 20th century. Up to 1920 it was the Church of England and it was strongly identified with the British establishment, acquiesced towards the British class system, and generally showed a lack of interest in Welsh identity (though there were exceptions in some local parishes). Indeed, these attitudes had contributed to the rapid growth of non-conformist protestant denominations in the 18th and 19th centuries in Wales. The Church of England was disestablished in Wales in 1920 and was replaced with a distinct branch of the Anglican communion, which then gradually changed in character until it became fully sympathetic with Welsh aspirations by the close of the 20th century.

      So R. S. Thomas would have seen the Anglican Church change during his lifetime; though perhaps not changing as rapidly as he did.

  2. Grumpy Old Woman Says:

    The Afternoon Drama on Radio 4 on Good Friday was a rendition of his verse drama “The Minister. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rgm2p – one day left to listen.

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