Now that ads for Valentine bouquets are no longer trailing dollar signs, or pounds sterling signs, across our computer screen, perhaps we can consider R. S. Thomas as a Valentine-poet.
Did he ever send Elsi a Valentine card? Give her a heart-shaped box of chocolates? Buy her a bouquet of red roses? Slip into scarlet pajamas on February 14th?
It’s difficult to imagine him doing those things.
And yet . . .
Women I know, who met and talked with RS, say that he responded to them in ways that made clear that he liked women, enjoyed their presence, was anything but immune to their charms.
Recently, Damian Walford Davies brought together a selection of RS’s poems in a book titled R. S. Thomas: Poems to Elsi (Seren, 2013). There’s nothing amorously chilly about the man who wrote these poems: “I never thought in this poor world to find” (about 1939) and “Luminary” (about 1980).
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. . . .
RS was not a Hallmark-card-rhymester, writing generalized doggerel. Rather, he wrote as a particular lover for a particular beloved:
my morning and evening
star. My light at noon
when there is no sun
and the sky lowers. My balance
of joy in a world
that has gone off joy’s
standard. Yours the face
that young I recognised
as though I had known you
of old. Come, my eyes
said, out into the morning
of a world whose dew
waits for your footprint. . . .
“Luminary” is the work of a mature poet; “I never thought in this poor world to find,” the work of a man who has not yet found his poetic ‘voice’.
But each poem is the creation of a man who loved. A lover who, perhaps, provides a clue to help us understand the way he voiced his love.
These lines appear on the page facing “Luminary” in R.S. Thomas: Uncollected Poems:
. . . all my life
I tried to keep love from bursting
its banks. Love is the fine thing
but destructive. I strove to contain it, . . .
Poems by R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:
“I never thought in this poor world to find” – R. S. Thomas: Poems to Elsi (2013), 17; also see R. S. Thomas: Uncollected Poems edited by Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies (2013), 22.
“My luminary” – “Luminary,” R. S. Thomas: Poems to Elsi, 54; also see R. S. Thomas: Uncollected Poems, 169.
“all my life” – “The Father Dies,” R. S. Thomas: Uncollected Poems, 168.