My Blogging of R.S. Thomas’s Poetry Nears One-Year Mark

RS Thomas at Porth Neigwl

R.S. Thomas at Porth Neigwl

This post is my last before I celebrate my first R. S. Thomas-blogging birthday. And I’ve been debating what to give myself as a present.

Webmaster lessons? Nah. I have the best of webmasters, and the price is right. Besides, trying to learn new computer tricks would amplify the gasps of my grey cells.

New eyeglasses for computer work, allowing me to move my eyes from keyboard to screen without lifting my head to relocate my bifocals? Owlish frames?

A red necktie? To wear when I’m reading R. S. Thomas’s poems. That’d be fitting, for Thomas always sported a red tie. But I no longer much care for binding my neck.

A picture of me to pop up whenever I respond to a comment on one of my posts? Perhaps a sort of Kilroy-was-here shot, in which the top part of my face looks out over an open book? Kinda like the idea. Wonder what my webmaster will say?

No matter, I’ve decided to give myself something my webmaster suggested.

It’ll be unwrapped on March 2nd.

I hope I’ll like it.

Maybe you will, too.

A clue:

The fox drags its wounded belly
Over the snow, the crimson seeds
Of blood burst with a mild explosion,
Soft as excrement, bold as roses.

Over the snow that feels no pity,
Whose white hands can give no healing,
The fox drags its wounded belly.

Poem of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:

“The fox drags its wounded belly” – “January,” Song at the Year’s Turning [1955], 107; Selected Poems 1946-1968 [1973], 38.

R.S. Thomas: A Poet Blogger?

And I’ve been wondering what R. S. Thomas would say about me as a Thomas-blogger.

Well, McEllhenney, at least you’re talking about my poems, not discussing the weather.

I’m glad my blog doesn’t offend you, but let me take this blogger business one step farther. In some sense, aren’t you a blogger-poet?

I’ve no idea what you mean.

Well, there’s a count I made while scanning the indexes of your poems.

Sounds mind-numbing.  

According to my rough count, you begin more than forty poems with the conjunction “And.”

And I was taught that “and” joins words coming before it with words coming after it. So why do you use “And” when there are no words tagging along behind?  

I write my poems as I write them, leaving it up to the readers to interpret them. So why don’t you tell your readers why you think I do what I do.

Okay – Here are the opening lines of Thomas’s poem titled “The Letter”:

And to be able to put at the end
Of the letter Athens, Florence . . . .

That sounds to me like the second half of a travel agent’s blog touting Ten European Cities in Ten Days: “Just image what it’ll be like to have shopping bags from très chic boutiques, and to be able to put at the end of your postcard Athens, Florence.”

Another example:

And I standing in the shade
Have seen it a thousand times
Happen: first theft, then murder;
Rape; . . .

So what do I imagine coming before Thomas’s lead off “And”?

I hear a conversation in which R.S. is participating, and someone has just said: “There I was, standing in the sunshine, when this young punk grabs an old woman’s purse.”

To which Thomas adds: “And I standing in the shade have seen it a thousand times happen: first theft, then murder; rape.”

Those are two examples out of more than forty poems, but sufficient for me to begin my response to Thomas’s challenge.

Thomas leads us into a poem with “And” to engage us, from the start, in creative interaction with his words. 

So he’s doing what every blogger tries to do: Leave the runway with a thrust that pulls the reader along in the blog’s flight path.

Which brings us back to my examples of Thomas’s “And” poems: Where do they go after they take off?

Here’s the first stanza of “The Letter”:

And to be able to put at the end
Of the letter Athens, Florence – some name
That the spirit recalls from earlier journeys
Through the dark wood, seeking the path
To the bright mansions; cities and towns
Where the soul added depth to its stature.

The “dark wood” refers, of course, to the selva oscura in the second line of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which he completed in Ravenna

At the mid-point of the path thrugh life, I found
Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way
Ahead was blotted out.     (Clive James’ translation)

I’d add Ravenna to Athens and Florence as places “Where the soul added depth to its stature.”

Other cities and towns are on my list, too. How about your list? Want to add it as a comment below?

Moving on to my second example of an “And” poem, here are additional lines of “Petition”:

And I standing in the shade
Have seen it a thousand times
Happen: first theft, then murder;
Rape; the rueful acts
Of the blind hand. . . .

Wherever Thomas looks, brutal realities, ugly truths, confront him. A baby begins life with glowing beauty, but those who cradle her know that cancer may be lurking in midlife’s “dark wood.”  

Thomas continues:

         . . . One thing I have asked
Of the disposer of the issues
Of life: that truth should defer
To beauty. It was not granted.

Why? Why don’t the ugly truths of life defer to beauty?

Thomas is nudging us to join him and Job in storming at God “with the eloquence / of the abused heart.”


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

“And to be able to put at the end” – “The Letter,” Poetry for Supper, 26.

“And I standing in the Shade” – “Petition,” H’m, 2.

“with the eloquence” – “At It,” Frequencies, 15.