R.S. Thomas: Not a Greeting-Card Lover

rs thomas with birdwatching glasses croppedThomas was not a lover of greeting cards, with their rhyming saccharine gush.

Even Christmas cards were on his Scrooge list – something I learned after I’d been sending him one for several years. The width of the Atlantic prevented me from hearing his bah-humbug.

So far, of course, I’ve been dealing with one of the meanings of “lover.”

Also, Thomas was not a lover who does greeting-card types of things.

It’s hard for me to picture him approaching his wife on Valentine’s Day with a bouquet of red roses picked up at the florist’s shop.

With a handful of wildflowers in springtime? Yes. Or with the bronze-colored bracken that he brought in from a walk, and Betty put in a large container the November day that my wife and I were their dinner guests.

But the store-bought? No.

Thomas was attuned to the world of nature, and nature, unlike greeting cards, doesn’t gush.

Thomas gives us this image of a lover of nature and the lover of a woman:

Not that he brought flowers
Except for the eyes’ blue,
Perishable ones, or that his hands,
Famed for kindness were put then
To such usage; but rather that, going
Through flowers later, she yet could feel
These he spared perhaps for my sake.

Ronald and Elsi Thomas observed their nineteenth wedding anniversary in 1959. Marking it, he wrote:

Nineteen years now
Under the same roof
Eating our bread,
Using the same air;
Sighing if one sighs,
Meeting the other’s
Words with a look
That thaws suspicion.

. . . .

Nineteen years now
Keeping simple house,
Opening the door
To friend and stranger; . . .

A dry poem, to be sure, but closer to the truth of enduring unions than what is often printed on anniversary cards.

In my last blog, I quoted what Thomas said, a year before his death, to an interviewer: “I don’t think I’m a very loving person. I wasn’t brought up in a loving home – my mother was afraid of emotion – and you tend to carry on in the same way don’t you?”

Thomas was not a bells-and-whistles lover, certainly not one to talk about the earth shaking, but . . .

But here’s what he wrote a year or so before he and Elsi married:

I never thought in this poor world to find
Another who had loved the things I love,
The wind, the trees, the cloud-swept sky above;
One who was beautiful and grave and kind,
Who struck no discord in my dreaming mind,
Content to live with silence as a cloak
About her every thought, or, if she spoke,
Her gentle voice was music on the wind. . . .

Thomas is showing promise of greatness – “Content to live with silence as a cloak / About her every thought” – but he has not yet hit his stride.

What is clear, however, is that he was a loving person.

Many years later, as Elsi’s life was ebbing, he wrote:

I look out over the timeless sea
over the head of one, calendar
to time’s passing, who is now open
at the last month, her hair wintry.

Am I catalyst of her mettle that,
at my approach, her grimace of pain
turns to a smile? What it is saying is:
‘Over love’s depths only the surface is wrinkled.’

Thomas’s love poems have been brought together by Damian Walford Davies in R. S. Thomas: Poems to Elsi – I recommend it.

Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:

“Not that he brought flowers” – “Concession,” Not That He Brought Flowers, 14.

“Nineteen years now” – “Anniversary,” Tares, 18.

“I never thought in this poor world to find” – untitled poem in R. S. Thomas: Uncollected Poems, 22.

“I look out over the timeless sea” – untitled poem in The Echoes Return Slow, 121.

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8 thoughts on “R.S. Thomas: Not a Greeting-Card Lover

  1. Dear John, What a lovely description of the love which Don and I shared for 62+ years. Your blog so warmed my heart. Thank you. Love, Barbara

  2. Sad to say too often these days we observe love’s shallows, as we witness relationships running aground. Whereas with RS & Elsi, it would seem to have deepend silently over the years, as you suggest, keeping time and tide with the deepening flow of his poetry. They started from such an unassuming alliance “we decided that we could live together” [Elsi’s recollection of the marriage proposal on a wild moor]. Running it’s course over 50 years, up to that moment, 4 days before she died, when RS brought her home from hospital. He was 78 she 81, he carried her in his arms over the threshold of Sarn Plas as groom to his bride.

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