R. S. Thomas said a host of self-revealing things on a November afternoon – the sort of afternoon that Melville’s Ishmael calls “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.”
An electric fire pushed back the chill in the residents’ lounge of the Bull Bay Hotel, allowing Thomas to make a frosty comment about mysticism, “I don’t take to it at all,” and a warm comment about sacramentalism, “I am guilty of the love of created things.”
The mystic desires to bracket out the realm of created things, and, as a fleshless spirit, to experience unity with God.
Thomas, on the other hand, discerned God revealing the divine Self in and through created things; in particular, the beauties of nature, but also human creations.
Roughly twenty-four hours before Thomas’s comment about being “guilty of the love of created things,” he took my wife and me on a tour of places associated with his university days, then stopped at Beaumaris, where we could see the setting sun illuminating the autumn colors on the opposite shore of the Menai Strait.
I could hear Thomas saying:
Like a painting it is set before one,
But less brittle, ageless; these colours
Are renewed daily with variations
Of light and distance that no painter
Achieves or suggests. . . .
. . . All through history
The great brush has not rested,
Nor the paint dried; . . .
Thomas speaks well-chosen words over created things, such as landscapes, and they become sacramental.
Here’s what I mean: In the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, liturgical words are spoken over bread and wine, and these material things become for communicants the God-given food of everlasting life.
Some of Thomas’s poems are like liturgies. So when their words are spoken and heard, created things, such as weeds, stones, the surgeon’s hand, birds, moors, and the chain-saw, become God addressing us “from a myriad / directions with the fluency / of water, the articulateness / of green leaves.”
Poem of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:
“The View from the Window” – Poetry for Supper, 27.
“from a myriad” – “Suddenly,” Later Poems, 201; the chain-saw, the surgeon’s hand, weeds, and stones are found in this poem; I added birds and moors from other poems by Thomas.