Archive for R. S. Thomas

#WorldPoetryDay: ‘Children’s Song’, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 21, 2020 by telescoper

My fourth poem for World Poetry Day is by the great 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)

Three Poems for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , , , , on March 1, 2020 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, and I’m glad to say that Storm Jorge has passed, so I wish you all a big

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

 

Gratuitous Picture of some Daffodils near the Maynooth University Library.

It has become a bit of a St David’s Day tradition on this this blog to post a piece of verse by the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, but this year I decided to post three poems by different Welsh poets. But I’ll start with R.S. Thomas. This is 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.

This one is by a poet who shared the same surname (but little else either stylistically or thematically), Dylan Thomas. It’s called Here in This Spring.

Here in this spring, stars float along the void;
Here in this ornamental winter
Down pelts the naked weather;
This summer buries a spring bird.

Symbols are selected from the years’
Slow rounding of four seasons’ coasts,
In autumn teach three seasons’ fires
And four birds’ notes.

I should tell summer from the trees, the worms
Tell, if at all, the winter’s storms
Or the funeral of the sun;
I should learn spring by the cuckooing,
And the slug should teach me destruction.

A worm tells summer better than the clock,
The slug’s a living calendar of days;
What shall it tell me if a timeless insect
Says the world wears away?

And finally, by popular request, a poem by Dannie Abse called The Old Gods.

The gods, old as night, don’t trouble us.
Poor weeping Venus! Her pubic hairs are grey,
and her magic love girdle has lost its spring.
Neptune wonders where he put his trident.
Mars is gaga – illusory vultures on the wing.

Pluto exhumed, blinks. My kind of world, he thinks.
Kidnapping and rape, like my Front Page exploits
adroitly brutal – but he looks out of sorts when
other unmanned gods shake their heads tut tut,
respond boastingly, boringly anecdotal.

Diana has done a bunk, fearing astronauts.
Saturn, Time on his hands, stares at nothing and
nothing stares back. Glum Bacchus talks ad nauseam
of cirrhosis and small bald Cupid, fiddling
with arrows, can’t recall which side the heart is.

All the old gods have become enfeebled,
mere playthings for poets. Few, doze or daft,
frolic on Parnassian clover. True, sometimes
summer light dies in a room – but only
a bearded profile in a cloud floats over.

 

They – by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on March 14, 2019 by telescoper

The new explorers don’t go
anywhere and what they discover
we can’t see. But they change our lives.

They interpret absence
as presence, measuring it by the movement
of its neighbours. Their world is

an immense place: deep down is as distant
as far out, but is arrived at
in no time. These are the new

linguists, exchanging acrosss closed
borders the currency of their symbols.
Have I been too long on my knees

worrying over the obscurity
of a message? These have their way, too,
other than a prayer of breaking that abstruse code.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2019 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, and a lovely spring morning it is, so I wish you all a big

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

 

Gratuitous Picture of some Daffodils near the Maynooth University Library.

It has become a bit of a St David’s Day tradition on this this blog to post a piece of verse by the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. An Anglican clergyman, Thomas was vicar at St Hywyn’s Church (which was built 1137) in Aberdaron at the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. In this, one of his most famous poems, he speaks eloquently and movingly of the frustrations of his calling.

I was vicar of large things
in a small parish. Small-minded
I will not say, there were depths
in some of them I shrank back
from, wells that the word “God”
fell into and died away,
and for all I know is still
falling. Who goes for water
to such must prepare for a long
wait. Their eyes looked at me
and were the remains of flowers
on an old grave. I was there,
I felt, to blow on ashes
that were too long cold. Often,
when I thought they were about
to unbar to me, the draught
out of their empty places
came whistling so that I wrapped
myself in the heavier clothing
of my calling, speaking of light and love
in the thickening shadows of their kitchens

The Word, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on April 5, 2017 by telescoper

A pen appeared, and the god said:
‘Write what it is to be
man.’ And my hand hovered
long over the bare page.

until there, like footprints
of the lost traveller, letters
took shape on the page’s
blankness, and I spelled out
the word ‘lonely’.

And my hand moved
to erase it; but the voices
of all those waiting at life’s
window cried out loud: ‘It is true.’

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

 

Too Brave To Dream

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

berave

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.