Monday, July 29, 2013

Vernon Watkins

Vernon Watkins (1906—1967) is a Welsh Poet who grew up in Swansea, and is associated with his close friend Dylan Thomas. He also knew William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and Philip Larkin. His parents were nonconformists, but Watkins' education, including his time at Cambridge University, influenced him to join the Church of England. At the time of his death he had published seven collections of his own poetry with Faber & Faber — including The Lady with the Unicorn (1948) and The Death Bell (1954) — and had selected the poems for his eighth. Several subsequent books also gradually appeared from his previously unpublished work. His Collected Poems (1986) includes more than 500 poems.

Watkins was devoted in his friendship to Dylan Thomas, even though his friend was unreliable. Thomas, who was supposed to be the best man at Watkins' wedding, never showed up. Unsurprisingly, only one half of their extensive correspondence survives — the half received by Watkins.

Watkins had suffered a breakdown in 1927, as he sought to come to terms with the direction of his life. According to Jane L. McCormick, this was when "...he began the long-avoided struggle with God that is the mystic's first step toward spiritual rebirth; and from then till the day of his death, love of God was foremost in his life."

Since his death the poetry of Vernon Watkins has slipped from public attention. Rowan Williams argues that Watkins' is a significant twentieth century voice, worthy of our attention.

Infant Noah

Calm the boy sleeps, though death is in the clouds.
Smiling he sleeps, and dreams of that tall ship
Moored near the dead stars and the moon in shrouds,
Built out of light, whose faith his hands equip.
It was imagined when remorse of making
Winged the bent, brooding brows of God in doubt.
All distances were narrowed to his waking:
"I built his city, then I cast him out."
Time's great tide falls; under that tide the sands
Turn, and the world is shown there thousand-hilled
To the opening, ageless eyes. On eyelids, hands,
Falls a dove's shade, God's cloud, a velvet leaf.
And his shut eyes hold heaven in their dark sheaf,
In whom the rainbow's covenant is fulfilled.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: