Treacle oozes from the words of some poets.
But not the words of R. S. Thomas. Although Thomas responded with emotion to God, other people, and the natural world, he was not a greeting-card poet. In his poetry, sentiment is controlled by metaphor and by un-sugared words.
In letters, however, he was a little less reserved. Writing to me on New Year’s Day 1997, he said that Betty (his second wife) and he had married the previous August, and that now they were going to be with Betty’s daughter who “is very ill.”
At the end of July, Thomas wrote again: “Betty’s only daughter [Alice] died aged 40 in March, so that was a cruel blow, making us ask why geriatrics like us should be spared.”
Immediately, I wrote to Betty. It was Ronald, however, who responded, which was thoughtful of him, because it relieved Betty of one more letter to acknowledge, and because it relieved me of the almost impossible task of deciphering Betty’s handwriting.
(Before completing A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief, I looked again and again at a bread-and-butter note Betty wrote in 1994, trying to suss out what she said about a meal that Nancy and I hosted.)
Writing for Betty, Thomas says: “It was good of you to send such a kind letter and Betty much appreciated it. She misses Alice terribly – to think she wasn’t even half our age, and we are spared.”
Two years before Alice died, Thomas expressed his love by dedicating to her his book No Truce with the Furies.
In that book, Thomas writes:
. . . there is always room
on the heart for another
snowflake to reveal a pattern.
If Thomas’s exterior was snowy, his heart was not.
Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:
“there is always room” – “Blind Noel,” No Truce with the Furies, 84.