Friday, October 07, 2005

Poetry Day: R. S. Thomas, Allen Tate

As too many people were visiting my blog lately, I thought it would be appropriate to drive off the masses with a little poesy. My first edition of Poems, by Allen Tate, arrived today. It is dated 1948, and in beautiful condition. Thanks to Scott Nichols for finding it for me on Ebay (price: $8.99 hardcover, which is ridiculous). Tate is now rarely read, which is incomprehensible to me. If pressed, a fairly intelligent person might remember he wrote "Ode to the Confederate Dead." Nothing of his work is currently in print, but I found if you spell his name properly, used copies are available.

I really want to mention R. S. Thomas (1913-2000), who along with George Herbert, Henry Vaughn, Geoffrey Hill and T. S. Eliot, must be listed as one of history's great Christian poets, and one of the 20th century's finest poets, period. A Welshman, he served Christ as an Anglican priest. A man of prodigious talent and enormous output; his Collected Poems runs to 560 pages. Christian themes abound in his work, but he was also a poet of nature, and simultaneously celebrated and berated the Welsh people for their culture and its disintegration. For an inexpensive taste of his poetry, Everyman Press has an edition of selected poems for $3.50, and Phoenix Press has a small hardcover for $6.95. Both are available new at For a more detailed biography, this link to The Literary Encyclopedia will suffice.

His poems possess the grace of brevity. Here is one of my particular favorites:

In Church

Often I try
To analyse the quality
Of its silences. Is this where God hides
From my searching? I have stopped to listen,
After the few people have gone,
To the air recomposing itself
For vigil. It has waited like this
Since the stones grouped themselves about it.
These are the hard ribs
Of a body that our prayers have failed
To animate. Shadows advance
From their corners to take possession
Of places light held
For an hour. The bats resume
Their business. The uneasiness of the pews
Ceases. There is no other sound
In the darkness but the sound of a man
Breathing, testing his faith
On emptiness, nailing his questions
One by one to an untenanted cross.

A picture of his gravesite:

I must add two more poems. I must.

The Chapel

A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.

But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The Son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Philostupor,

R. S. Thomas is a truly inspirational poet: his work is so thought provoking, and forces you to confront spirituality in such a unique way. I've got a 3CD set from 'Sain Records' called 'R. S. Thomas reading The Poems' of him reading from his Collected Poems - wonderful. Hopefully, I'll be blogging a little on RST at some point in the future! 'Seawatching', the first 'Emerging' and 'Folktale' are particular favourites of mine, and find myself muttering fragments of them to myself from time to time!

Best wishes


11:50 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

It's nice that someone appreciated the poems! I've been told that when I put poems on my blog people's eyes glaze over. Which only makes me love poetry more. Thanks for the comment.

7:49 PM  
Blogger wendy said...

Thank you so much. I only discovered R S Thomas yesterday when someone read me 'Folktale' and it made such an impact that I Googled him.There are not many sites which show his work, so I really appreciate this one (and Simon's comment too!)

4:45 AM  

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