How R.S. Thomas’s Poems Got ‘Started’

rst“As I go through my day,” R. S. Thomas writes, “at my desk, in my contact with others, or out in the world of nature, I see something, begin to turn it over in my mind, and decide that it has poetic possibilities.”

The ‘starter’ for the following poem is, I think, an evening when Thomas, the parish priest, visited a parishioner and listened to her talk about her son who now knew the reason for the roaring in his veins:

At nine o’clock in the morning
My son said to me:
Mother, he said, from the wet streets
The clouds are removed and the sun walks
Without shoes on the warm pavements.
There are girls biddable at the corners
With teeth cleaner than your white plates
The sharp clatter of your dishes
Is less pleasant to me than their laughter.
The day is building; before its bright walls
Fall in dust, let me go
Beyond the front garden without you
To find glasses unstained by tears, . . .

For me, the mother is a widow living with her only son in a cottage on a remote farm. Thomas has walked up the path to call on her, and nodded attentively, over a cup of tea, to her grumbling about her son and those – perhaps “sluts” – down in the village.

Every pastor has listened to both the son and the mother. Every pastor empathizes with each of them, for they are doing what comes naturally. But only one pastor has brought this common experience to poetry, writing:

           . . . from the wet streets
The clouds are removed and the sun walks
Without shoes on the warm pavements.

Thomas chose words and rhythms to keep the experience fresh; words and rhythms that recreate it for each new reader.

Here’s the full quote with which I began:

As I go through my day at my desk, Thomas writes, in my contact with others, or out in the world of nature, I see something, begin to turn in over in my mind, and decide that it has poetic possibilities. The main concern now will be not to kill it; not to make it common, prosaic, uninteresting. If it bores me in the telling, it will surely bore the public in the reading. I must choose words and rhythms which will keep it fresh and have the power to recreate the experience in all its original intensity for each new reader. But in this very process the experience is changed, and will continue to be changed as each new reader apprehends it.

R. S. Thomas quotes used in this blog:

“As I go through my day” – “Words and the Poet,” R. S. Thomas: Selected Prose, 65.

“At nine o’clock in the morning” – “Mother and Son,” Tares, 37.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s