Archive for R. S. Thomas

Too Brave To Dream

Posted in Art, Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2016 by telescoper


One day last week I found this wonderful item had been delivered to my house. Is a new book called Too Brave To Dream which contains about three dozen previously unpublished poems by R.S. Thomas, who died in 2000. After his death, two seminal studies of modern art were found on his bookshelves – Herbert Read’s Art Now (1933/1948) and Surrealism (1936), edited by Read and containing essays by key figures in the Surrealist movement. Poems handwritten by Thomas were later discovered between the pages of the two books. These poems written in response to a selection of the many reproductions of modern art in the Read volumes, including works by Henry Moore, Edvard Munch, George Grosz, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Graham Sutherland – many of whom were Thomas’s near contemporaries. Written between 1987 and 1993, these poems are published in Too Brave To Dream for the first time – alongside reproductions of the works of modern art that inspired them. They poems are instantly recognizable as works of R.S. Thomas. According to the publishers blurb:

Thomas’s readings of these often unsettling images demonstrate a willingness to confront, unencumbered by illusions, a world in which old certainties have been undermined. Personal identity has become a source of anguish, and relations between the sexes a source of disquiet and suspicion. Thomas’s vivid engagements with the works of art produce a series of dramatic encounters haunted by the recurring presence of conflict and by the struggle of the artist who, in a frequently menacing world, is ‘too brave to dream’.

The poems vary considerably in style and mood. Some are wry and playful – although Thomas isn’t perhaps best known for his sense of humour, he certainly wasn’t averse to playing with words and you can find puns throughout his work including in these new poems. Others are bleaker in tone, reflecting the disturbing nature the artworks to which they respond.

Incidentally, these poems were all written after Thomas had, after forty years of service, retired from his post as an Anglican priest. He seems to have experienced something of a crisis after his retirement, perhaps because of the lack of daily routine and regular duties require of him by the Church. He wrote to a friend in 1978, just before his retirement

I am retiring at Easter. I shall be 65. I could stay till 70, but I am glad to go from a Church I no longer believe in, sycophantic to the queen, iconoclastic with language, changing for the sake of change and regardless of beauty.

The form of his religious faith was never straightforward to R.S. Thomas but it did continue to dominate his poetry. He may have given up on the Anglican Church but that does not imply he had given up on religion altogether.

The poem that gives this book is title is a response to one of Henry Moore’s Shelter Sketches. During the ‘Blitz’ the London Underground served as a shelter for Londoners – who not only used the platforms as refuges, but also slept there. Moore produced a group of drawings based on his observations of people in the shelters. They’re are revelation if you think of Moore only as a sculptor but in any case they are very powerful images. I can’t reproduce the particular example that inspired the poem in question here for copyright reasons, but it is dated 1941 and is a sombre image of a figure in what appears to be a restless sleep, presumably during an air raid, with one hand rolled into a fist. Here is Thomas’s poem:

Hand clenched
on the dark dream
where the sleeper wanders
far from the crackling
meadows and the sharp flowers
with their smell
of combustion. Alas
that waking to safety
should be waking also
to survivors poking
among the remains of others
who were too brave to dream.


I’ve enjoyed dipping into this book enormously not only for the “new”poems by one of my favourite poets but also because of the interesting cross-section of influential works of art that it includes, including a number of artists who were completely new to me. If you’re interested in poetry or art you’ll find this book fascinating!

P.S. The cover image is Gorse on a Sea Wall, by Graham Sutherland.

A Day in Autumn – National Poetry Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on October 6, 2016 by telescoper

It will not always be like this,
The air windless, a few last
Leaves adding their decoration
To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs
Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening

In the lawn’s mirror. Having looked up
From the day’s chores, pause a minute,
Let the mind take its photograph
Of the bright scene, something to wear
Against the heart in the long cold.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Posted to mark National Poetry Day.

Luminary, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on February 14, 2016 by telescoper

My luminary,
my morning and evening
star. My light at noon
when there is no sun
and the sky lowers. My balance
of joy in a world
that has gone off joy’s
standard. Yours the face
that young I recognised
as though I had known you
of old. Come, my eyes
said, out into the morning
of a world whose dew
waits for your footprint.
Before a green altar
with the thrush for priest
I took those gossamer
vows that neither the Church
could stale nor the Machine
tarnish, that with the years
have grown hard as flint,
lighter than platinum
on our ringless fingers.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)


Pact, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , on December 3, 2015 by telescoper

This is my child;
that is yours. Let
peace be between them
when they grow up.

They are far off
now; let it not
be through war they are brought
near. Their languages

are different. Let them both
learn it is peace
in the hand is the translation
of peace in the mind.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

A Life – R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , on September 25, 2015 by telescoper

A Life

Lived long; much fear, less
courage. Bottom in love’s school
of his class; time’s reasons
too far back to be known.
Good on his knees, yielding,
vertical, to petty temptations.
A mouth thoughts escaped
from unfledged. Where two
were company, he the unwanted
third. A Narcissus tortured
by the whisperers behind
the mirror. Visionary only
in his perception of an horizon
beyond the horizon. Doubtful
of God, too pusillanimous
to deny him. Saving his face
in verse from the humiliations prose
inflicted on him. One of life’s
conscientious objectors, conceding
nothing to the propaganda of death
but a compulsion to volunteer.

An obituary of his own hand.

posted on the 15th anniversary of the death of R.S. Thomas (1913-2000).




The Small Window

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on July 28, 2015 by telescoper

In Wales there are jewels
To gather, but with the eye
Only. A hill lights up
Suddenly; a field trembles
With colour and goes out
In its turn; in one day
You can witness the extent
Of the spectrum and grow rich
With looking. Have a care;
The wealth is for the few
And chosen. Those who crowd
A small window dirty it
With their breathing, though sublime
And inexhaustible the view.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Night Sky

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 30, 2015 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 R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)