“Nature’s Truth Is Primary” – R.S. Thomas, the Green Man, and the Island of Bardsey

The Green ManWhen I received an unexpected retirement gift from parishioners – I had to decide what to buy with the money to remember the couple and their yappy Schnauzer.

I decided on a Green Man for the deck of my townhouse, a place from which I could see trees, birds, deer, even an occasional red fox.

The Green Man is an ancient symbol of the intermeshing of human beings and the natural world. Although my Green Man was molded of unpainted faux-stone, many “representations are of a leaf-mask – green and gold, signifying nature transformed, in harmony with heaven.”

One of the Green Man’s haunts is Bardsey, an island off the coast of the Llŷn peninsula in northwestern Wales. R. S. Thomas calls it “that green / island” with “anointed air,” where “there was a resurrection / of nature.”

Sue Fogarty, my Bardsey Island guide; me; Christine Evans, a poet living on Bardsey Island

Sue Fogarty, my Bardsey Island guide; me; Christine Evans, a poet living on Bardsey Island

The Welsh poet Christine Evans, who lives on “that green / island” half of the year, uses the word “Veriditas” to express the “resurrection / of nature” – the freshness and creativity of the natural world.

Veriditas is, in the words of Hildegarde of Bingen, “the power of springtime, a germinating force, a freshness that penetrates all creation.”

A theology of Veriditas is what R. S. Thomas, a priest of the Church in Wales, finds missing in many parish ministers. The Reverend Elias Morgan, in Thomas’s poem “The Minister,” self-cloisters himself from the natural world, the world of flowers and birds . . . and love:

A few flowers bloomed beneath the window,
Set there once by a kind hand
In the old days, a woman’s gesture
Of love against the childless years.
Morgan pulled them up; they were untidy.
He sprinkled cinders there instead.

In the pulpit, Morgan ranted and Bible-flapped and rained down cinders on . . .

   . . . sex, sex, sex and money, money,
God’s mistake and the devil’s creation.

In the end, Morgan’s spirit failed, then his body, for he had self-cloistered himself in the Black Book, and declined invitations to go walking with the Green Man:

Morgan . . .

. . . never listened to the hills’
Music calling to the hushed
Music within; . . .

Morgan never experienced what I did when I stepped clumsily off of the Bardsey boat and noticed

           . . . sudden, welling
quiet, and how here the breeze
lets smells of growing things
settle and grow warm, a host of presences
drowsing, their wings too fine to see.

Morgan never walked the gravel tracks of Bardsey as I did, guided by a woman who lives greenness, and realized that . . .

                 . . . nature’s truth
Is primary and her changing seasons
Correct out of a vaster reason
The vague errors of the flesh.


Quotes used in this post:

“representations are of a leaf-mask” – Burning the Candle by Christine Evans (2006), 88.

“that green / island” – “That Place,” Laboratories of the Spirit (1975), 8.

“the power of springtime” – Burning the Candle (2006), 90.

“A few flowers bloomed beneath the window” – “The Minister,” Song at the Year’s Turning (1955), 82-83.

“sex, sex, sex and money, money” – “The Minister,” 83.

“never listened to the hills’” – “The Minister,” 92.

“sudden welling / quiet” – “Enlli,” Selected Poems by Christine Evans (2003), 85.

“nature’s truth / Is primary” – “The Minister,” 93.


4 thoughts on ““Nature’s Truth Is Primary” – R.S. Thomas, the Green Man, and the Island of Bardsey

  1. Waking up in my suburban box in Brisbane Australia this morning I lay listening to the birdsong thrusting through the morning traffic and marveled at how fortunate i was to hear magpies, peewees, cockatoos, crows, pigeons and lorikeets in and around the swish of tires turning on the road. Thanks for their rowdy glorification and thanks for my hearing. I’ve been ‘too busy’ the last few weeks to read your posts. I clicked on your email between paying tax and sorting other business this morning and thank God for your kindness in bringing R S Thomas’s sanity into my life.

    • I’m certain RS would be delighted to know that he was able to bring sanity into the paying of taxes. He never spoke to me about taxes, but he did take me to a pub named for George III, so perhaps he recalled “No taxation without representation.” What I know with certainty is that he would have joined you in listening to the birds. You may wish to flip back through my previous posts until you find one about RS being arrested for spying; it has more to do with birds than spying, but spying in the title is catchy, or so I thought.

  2. I love your posts, they keep me going. Thank you so much. I am a Christian, also a trainee psychotherapist. Over the past few years I have been thinking a lot about how the Cross fits in with mythology, Jungian archetypes, nature etc and how I can reconcile the two; am now in a place where my faith is not threatened but enriched.

    Nature is very, very important to me, in a soul-enriching way.

    Best wishes,

    Stephanie in Bristol, UK

    • I’ve fallen far behind in my responses to comments, so let me begin now, belatedly, by saying thank you. It is heartening to know that you are now in a place where your faith is strengthened and enriched. I’ve made a note to write about RS’s understanding of the cross, saying, I hope, some things I haven’t said before.

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