Tag: r.s. thomas series

r.s. thomas series: a beginning

St Michael’s Church, near Welshpool. R.S. Thomas was rector in 1946.

Out of the Hills

Dreams clustering thick on his sallow skull,
Dark as curls, he comes, ambling with his cattle
From the starved pastures. He has shaken from off his shoulders
The weight of the sky, and the lash of the wind’s sharpness
Is healing already under the medicinal sun.
Clouds of cattle breath, making the air heady,
Remember the summer’s sweetness, the wet road runs
Blue as a river before him; the legendary town
Dreams of his coming; under the half-closed lids
Of the indolent shops sleep dawdles, emptying the last
Tankards of darkness, before the officious light
Bundles it up the chimney out of sight.

The shadow of the mountain dwindles; his scaly eye
Sloughs its cold care and glitters. The day is his
To dabble a finger in, and, merry as crickets,
A chorus of coins sings in his tattered pockets.
Shall we follow him down, witness his swift undoing
In the indifferent streets: the sudden disintegration
Of his soul’s hardness, traditional discipline
Of flint and frost thawing in ludicrous showers
Of maudlin laughter; the limpid runnels of speech
Sullied and slurred, as the beer-glass chimes the hours?
No, wait for him here. At midnight he will return,
Threading the tunnel that contains the dawn
Of all his fears. Be then his fingerpost
Homeward. The earth is patient; he is not lost.

“As you began, so you shall continue” Holderlin

“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.”
(Psalm 107:6-7)

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2)

That is the first poem from R.S. Thomas’ first published volume The Stones of the Field (1946).

I’m currently working my way through all Thomas’ poems and they are often so rich there is a felt need to *do* something with them. And well, I’m going to try and blog a little about the richest ones here. “Modern reading”, says Ivan Illich, “is an activity performed by commuters or tourists; it is no longer that of pedestrians and pilgrims.” This will be a pedestrian affair, perhaps even, if we are blessed, a pilgrimage.

A Beginning

What a worthy beginning to a Thomas-pilgrimage this poem is. Already here, at the very start, are so many central themes which will preoccupy him; the spiritual character and status of Welsh country folk, the depth of God’s presence in pitiless yet beautiful nature, the rape of traditional welsh culture and life by the Mammon-Machine, even the value and role of poetry-as-spiritual-fingerpost.

The diction is heavier than most of what comes after; the clauses and adjectives filling up the stanza’s tankard. And yet, even here the last four lines break into that painfully simple metaphysical clarity that marks his best verse, and which is his signature.

‘Dreams’ is the first word, ‘lost’ the last. The lost dream of welsh rural rootedness, and the (initially hidden) spiritual authenticity that accompanies, it is perhaps Thomas’ foundational theme, yes. But this poem itself takes place in a kind of dreamscape, a dream quality permeates its movement and symbols. The characters and places and landscape are all archetypal. Which means “Out of the Hills” provides a broad and spreading critical foundation from which to begin an ascent of all that is to come from Thomas’ tongue.


turning aside

R.S. Thomas, “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
the treasure in it. I realise 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.

R.S. Thomas Series: Mujahideen at the Fair

^ this video might auto-play on some browsers, if it does I can’t tell you how sorry I am, but know there is nothing I can do to stop it.

The Fair

The idiot goes round and around
With his brother in a bumping-car
At the fair. The famous idiot
Smile hangs over the car’s edge,
Illuminating nothing. This is mankind
Being taken for a ride by rich
Relation. The responses are fixed:
Bump, smile; bump, smile. And the current

Is generated by the smooth flow
Of the shillings. This is an orchestra
Of steel with the constant percussion
Of laughter. But where he should be laughing
Too, his features are split open, and look!
Out of the cracks come warm, human tears.

Yuval Noah Harari:

When the Islamic State conquered large parts of Syria and Iraq, it murdered tens of thousands of people, demolished archaeological sites, toppled statues, and systematically destroyed the symbols of previous regimes and of Western cultural influence. But when its fighters entered the local banks and found there stashes of American dollars covered with the faces of American presidents and with slogans in English praising American political and religious ideals they did not burn these symbols of American imperialism.. for the dollar bill is universally venerated across all political and religious divides.

“An orchestra of steel with the constant percussion of laughter” seems as accurate a description as any of what the world witnessed as the Taliban overthrew the American yoke with ever increasing American means.

but “look!”

God secreted
A tear. Enough, enough,
He commanded, but the machine
Looked at him and went on singing