Archive for R.S. Thomas

The Book Cover Challenge

Posted in Biographical, Literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2019 by telescoper

Over the past week I’ve been participating in the Book Cover Challenge on Twitter, in which you are invited to post every day for a week an image of the cover of a book you love without any further comment or explanation. I’ve now finished the challenge and I thought I’d put the seven books I selected up here.

Since the challenge is over I am absolved of the requirement not to add comments, so I’ll make a few brief observations here. One is that I found it very hard to select just seven books. I love far too many books to do this in any systematic way. The seven picked are just meant to be vaguely representative of the sort of books I read, but they are not really the seven I definitely consider the best. On a different day I could easily have picked a completely different seven.

Anyway, here are some comment on my selections.

 

Book 1 is A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White. I read this as a teenager, and it had a profound effect on me. It’s the story of an adolescent boy coming to terms with his sexuality in the American mid-West during the 1950s. It is as frank about the description of gay sex as it is truthful about the confusion that goes with being a teenager. When I bought it I didn’t realize it was going to be so sexually explicit or so unflinching in its description of the selfishness of the central character.

Book 2 is a collection of poems by R.S. Thomas. I had to include at least one book of poetry and found it hard to select which. I feel a bit ashamed to have omitted T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, but there you go. I only discovered R.S. Thomas when I moved to Wales in 2007, and still cannot understand why his poetry is not appreciated more widely, and I included this collection to encourage more people to explore his verse.

Book 3 is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I bought this soon after it came out in 1993 and although it is almost 1500 pages long I devoured it very quickly. The novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months, and centres on Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s efforts to arrange the marriage of her younger daughter, Lata, to the `suitable boy’ of the title.  Lata is a 19-year-old university student who refuses to be influenced by her domineering mother or opinionated brother, Arun. It’s beautifully written, weaving together the protagonists stories against a vividly painted backdrop of post-Partition India.

Books 4 & 5 are both from the Golden Age of detective fiction, but from either side of the Atlantic.  I’ve cheated a bit with Book 4, as it is actually 4 novels in one book but I had to have something by the greatest American writer of the period, Dashiell Hammett. By contrast I have also included a fine example of the English detective novel, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. Both Hammett and Sayers managed to transcend the genre of crime fiction and produce genuine works of literature. The Nine Tailors, has an extraordinary sense of detail and atmosphere and a wonderfully imaginative ending. Among the many ingenious features of this novel is the very prominent central theme of bell-ringing (campanology).

 

Book 6 is The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. This book describes the scientific discoveries of the polymaths of the late eighteenth century, and describes how this period formed the basis for modern scientific discoveries. It focuses particularly on the lives and works of such characters as Sir Joseph Banks, the astronomers William and Caroline Herschel, and chemist Humphry Davy and also explores the interaction between science and the art and literature of the period, especially poetry. It covers a lot of ground but it’s very wittily done and never gets bogged down.

Book 7, my last choice, is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. You would probably describe this as True Crime, a genre that is generally typified by crudely sensationalistic works of very little literary (or other) merit. This one is in a very different league, and some regard it as the first ever non-Fiction novel. Based on the real-life murders of four members of a family in rural Kansas in 1959 by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith (for which they were later executed), In Cold Blood has been lauded for its eloquent prose, extensive detail, and simultaneous triple narrative, which describes the lives of the murderers, the victims, and other members of the rural community in alternating sequences. The psychologies and backgrounds of Hickock and Smith are given special attention, as well as the complex relationship that existed between them during and after the murders. Not a comfortable read by any means, but a masterpiece by any standards.

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The Absence, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , on May 16, 2018 by telescoper

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

The Bright Field, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on May 31, 2017 by telescoper

I heard this recording of R.S. Thomas reading one of his most famous poems on Private Passions on BBC Radio 3 this Sunday. It was only later that I realised that although I’ve posted quite a few poems by R.S. Thomas over the years, I’ve never posted this one so I’m correcting that omission now. The poem is called The Bright Field:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. 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.

Here is R.S. Thomas himself reading it. The comments made about this reading on the radio programme weren’t entirely complimentary, but I rather like it. Notice, however, that in the spoken version he adds a `the’ between `had’ and `treasure’, which isn’t there in my printed copy of the poem.