R.S. Thomas: A Cocktail Party Poet?

cream sherryWell, no; I can’t see Thomas at a London publisher’s soirée, circulating the room, martini in hand, fencing adroitly with this supercilious literary critic and that soigné bestselling novelist.

Yes, he had a drink, usually cream sherry, before dinner when we were together. But a cocktail party man about town? No.

Yet he wrote a spot-on cocktail party poem.

Someone arrives:

‘How good of you to come!’
………………………………………..(Yawning inwardly.)
So beautiful!
………………….(The bitch!)
. . . .
…………..‘Handsomest of men!’
Can eyes be believed over the rim
of Madeira?

We can’t identify the speakers of those lines. Then we come to a sentence beginning with “I,” but we must be wary of confusing the narrator of a poem with the author of the poem:

………….           . . .I move
to a new partner, polishing
my knuckles, dazzled by the medals
he has left off. Once
in the sand it had been his club
against my fish-net. Here we exchange
insults civilly.

Eight words assure me that Thomas had been to cocktail parties: “dazzled by the medals / he has left off.”

The poem deals with the period of his life when Thomas was vicar of a parish in Wales inhabited by many retired English military officers. So medals were always visible . . . even when they weren’t present. The same can be true for resumes and academic hoods.

I once invited a new resident of the building where I live to join a group of us for five o’clock drinks in the lounge. “What’ll I say?” he asked. “Oh, just tell us a little something about yourself.” He came. He talked . . . talked on and on and . . . our drinks were exhausted long before he was. We were dazzled by the resume he hadn’t handed out.

The other night, when I was walking to the health center to kiss my wife goodnight, I was hailed by a clergy colleague I hadn’t seen for years and scarcely knew. As she was introducing me to her husband, she paused and asked, “Are you ‘doctor’?” “An honorary degree,” I conceded. “Oh,” she preened, “honorary. I earned mine.” And I was dazzled by the doctoral hood she had left off.

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

“’How good of you to come!’” – untitled poem, The Echoes Return Slow, 53.