Archive for R. S. Thomas

A Poem on St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on March 1, 2014 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today so Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! I’m in Cardiff and shortly heading to St David’s Hall for a gala concert being held to mark the occasion. As has become traditional on this blog, I thought I’d post a poem by the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. This is called Welsh History:

We were a people taut for war; the hills
Were no harder, the thin grass
Clothed them more warmly than the coarse
Shirts our small bones.
We fought, and were always in retreat,
Like snow thawing upon the slopes
Of Mynydd Mawr; and yet the stranger
Never found our ultimate stand
In the thick woods, declaiming verse
To the sharp prompting of the harp.
Our kings died, or they were slain
By the old treachery at the ford.
Our bards perished, driven from the halls
Of nobles by the thorn and bramble.
We were a people bred on legends,
Warming our hands at the red past.
The great were ashamed of our loose rags
Clinging stubbornly to the proud tree
Of blood and birth, our lean bellies
And mud houses were a proof
Of our ineptitude for life.
We were a people wasting ourselves
In fruitless battles for our masters,
In lands to which we had no claim,
With men for whom we felt no hatred.
We were a people, and are so yet.
When we have finished quarrelling for crumbs
Under the table, or gnawing the bones
Of a dead culture, we will arise
And greet each other in a new dawn.

Night Sky

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on November 29, 2013 by telescoper

 

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.

by Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913-2000)

A Century of R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags on March 29, 2013 by telescoper

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.

Always seeking greater silence

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 11, 2013 by telescoper

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.

A Song for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2013 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, so

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

I’m about to head off to three hours of mandatory Health and Safety Training so I’ll do a quick but appropriate post. I have posted this before, but I think it’s beautiful so make no apology for posting it again. It’s called Children’s Song and it’s by the great Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas.

We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

St David’s Day Poem

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2012 by telescoper

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

As has become traditional on this blog, I’ve decided to mark St David’s Day (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi) by posting a poem by R.S. Thomas. This one is called To a Young Poet, but  if you change “poet” to “physicist” it’s not far off the mark either. Perhaps there is more than one young physicist that this speaks to!

For the first twenty years you are still growing
Bodily that is: as a poet, of course,
You are not born yet. It’s the next ten
You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking
For your brash courtship of the muse.
You will take seriously those first affairs
With young poems, but no attachments
Formed then but come to shame you,
When love has changed to a grave service
Of a cold queen.

From forty on
You learn from the sharp cuts and jags
Of poems that have come to pieces
In your crude hands how to assemble
With more skill the arbitrary parts
Of ode or sonnet, while time fosters
A new impulse to conceal your wounds
From her and from a bold public,
Given to pry.

You are old now
As years reckon, but in that slower
World of the poet you are just coming
To sad manhood, knowing the smile
On her proud face is not for you.

 

Sea Christmas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on December 21, 2011 by telescoper

This is the wrong Christmas
in the right place: mistletoe
water there is no kissing
under; the soused holly

of the wrack, and birds coming
to the bird-table with
no red on their breast. All
night it has snowed

foam on the splintering
beaches, but the dawn-
wind carries it away, load
after load, and look,

the sand at the year’s
solstice is young flesh
on a green crib, product
of an immaculate conception.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000).

Welsh Testament

Posted in Poetry with tags , on October 11, 2011 by telescoper

The video recalls the snows of last winter but the poem, read by the poet R.S. Thomas, is deeper still…

All right, I was Welsh. Does it matter?
I spoke a tongue that was passed on
To me in the place I happened to be,
A place huddled between grey walls
Of cloud for at least half the year.
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hand of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night. Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain’s
Missiles. What was descent from him?

Even God had a Welsh name:
He spoke to him in the old language;
He was to have a peculiar care
For the Welsh people. History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.

Yet men sought us despite this.
My high cheek-bones, my length of skull
Drew them as to a rare portrait
By a dead master. I saw them stare
From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
In ewes and wethers. I saw them stand
By the thorn hedges, watching me string
The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
And always there was their eyes; strong
Pressure on me: You are Welsh, they said;
Speak to us so; keep your fields free
Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
Of hot tractors; we must have peace
And quietness.

Is a museum
Peace? I asked. Am I the keeper
Of the heart’s relics, blowing the dust
In my own eyes? I am a man;
I never wanted the drab role
Life assigned me, an actor playing
To the past’s audience upon a stage
Of earth and stone; the absurd label
Of birth, of race hanging askew
About my shoulders. I was in prison
Until you came; your voice was a key
Turning in the enormous lock
Of hopelessness. Did the door open
To let me out or yourselves in?

Judgment Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 22, 2011 by telescoper

Well, I guess the Rapture didn’t come after all. Or maybe it did and I’m unsurprisingly not among the chosen few to be saved? I studiously avoided try to make fun of the whole thing, despite the fact that yesterday everyone seemed to be posting rapture jokes like there was no tomorrow.

Anyway, for those who were disappointed by the poor turnout for the Apocalypse here is another poem by R.S. Thomas; this one is called called Judgment Day

Yes, that’s how I was,
I know that face,
That bony figure
Without grace
Of flesh or limb;
In health happy,
Careless of the claim
Of the world’s sick
Or the world’s poor;
In pain craven -
Lord breathe once more
On that sad mirror
Let me be lost
In mist for ever
Rather than own
Such bleak reflections,
Let me go back
On my two knees
Slowly to undo
The knot of life
That was tied there.

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R.S. Thomas, a Short Biography

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on April 25, 2011 by telescoper

I came across this short documentary about the poet R.S. Thomas on Youtube and thought I’d share it.

The documentary was made in anticipation of Thomas winning the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, for which he had been nominated. Sadly he didn’t win it, and the honour went to Seamus Heaney.

The film is only a few minutes long, but it says a lot about the man and his life as well as featuring two of his greatest poems. One, Children’s Song, I’ve posted before; the other is The Other, which is reproduced here:

There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl calling
far off and a fox barking
miles away. It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and falling
wave on wave on the long shore
by the village, that is without light
and companionless. And the thought comes
of that other being who is awake, too,
letting our prayers break on him,
not like this for a few hours,
but for days, years, for eternity.

Apparently, at St Hywyn’s Church in Aberdaron, where Thomas was vicar for many years, you can see a large slate with this poem carved upon it; it is shown at the end of the short film. I don’t know why, but I have developed a curious longing to visit that place …

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