Monday, September 23, 2013

R.S. Thomas*

R.S. Thomas (1913—2000) was born in Cardiff in Wales and studied classics, and then theology. For most of his life he served in rural parishes as an Anglican priest. His first book, The Stones of the Field, appeared in 1946. John Betjeman wrote a glowing introduction for his fourth collection, Song at the Year's Turning; it was brought out by a major publisher in 1955, and initiated the growth in Thomas's reputation. In 1964 he won the Queen's Gold Medal for poetry.

According to Colin Meir (British Poetry since 1970: A Critical Survey), R.S. Thomas believes that "one of the important functions of poetry is to embody religious truth, and since for him as poet that truth is not easily won, his poems record the struggle with marked honesty and integrity, thereby providing the context for the necessarily infrequent moments of faith and vision which are expressed with a clarity and gravity rarely matched by any of his contemporaries."

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.


Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great role. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
---------------------Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about R.S. Thomas: first post, third post.

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: