Archive for R. S. Thomas

The New Mariner

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 16, 2014 by telescoper

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 (1913-2000)

 

Poets in October

Posted in Poetry with tags , on October 27, 2014 by telescoper

I’m sure few readers of this blog can have failed to notice that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. I’ve posted quite a few of his poems over the years so it seems fitting to post this, Poem in October, as a birthday tribute.

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.


My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
Summery
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

 
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

 
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

 

I admire greatly the poems of Dylan Thomas for their energy and colour and the truly original way he uses words. Nevertheless I do agree with a friend of mine who said earlier today that Dylan Thomas is the second-greatest Welsh poet of the twentieth century who wrote in English and had the surname “Thomas”. I mean no disrespect at all to DM but, although the two are very different, RS has to be the greater of the two Thomases.

This poem by R.S. Thomas is called Song at a Year’s Turning; the echo of the final phrase of Poem in October and the fact that it was published in 1955 make it very clear that it was written as a kind of elegy from one Thomas to the other:

Shelley dreamed it. Now the dream decays.
The props crumble; the familiar ways
Are stale with tears trodden underfoot.
The heart’s flower withers at the root.
Bury it then, in history’s sterile dust.
The slow years shall tame your tawny lust.

Love deceived him; what is there to say
The mind brought you by a better way
To this despair? Lost in the world’s wood
You cannot stanch the bright menstrual blood.
The earth sickens; under naked boughs
The frost comes to barb your broken vows.

Is there blessing? Light’s peculiar grace
In cold splendour robes this tortured place
For strange marriage. Voices in the wind
Weave a garland where a mortal sinned.
Winter rots you; who is there to blame?
The new grass shall purge you in its flame.

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)

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