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.

R.S. Thomas: Guide to the Border Between Welshness and Englishness

Cader Idris in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Cader Idris in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

The small bus reeked of hot brakes – all the fault of our tour guide: R. S. Thomas.

Ten of us hired a driver and a small bus for touring England and Wales. Thomas joined us when we arrived in Wales, and sat by the driver to give him directions.

Unclouded sunshine brought out the natural beauty of Wales, as R. S. led us along Tal-y-llyn, a lake from whose shore we had a clear view of Cader Idris, which means “chair of Idris,” a giant variously celebrated by the Welsh bards as warrior, poet, and astronomer. According to tradition, anyone sleeping for a night in the chair of Idris wakes up as a poet or a madman. But no one knows the precise throne-like stone that is Idris’s chair.

We drove on to Dolgellau, where Thomas told the driver to turn onto a one-track road. Before long, he realized that he’d picked the wrong turning. So back to Dolgellau, where he asked for directions, which took us to another single-track road that was blocked again and again by gates to keep sheep from straying.

Soon the road plunged downward, and we began to smell overheating brakes. The road flattened just before we reached Penmaenpool on the river Mawddach, where Thomas announced we’d eat lunch at the George III Hotel.

The George the III Hotel in Penmaenpool, Wales

The George the III Hotel in Penmaenpool, Wales

Surely, R.S. grinned inwardly: A Welshman taking ten Americans to an inn named for the English king that Americans love to hate. And the Welsh, too, are not overly fond of English monarchs. Yet Thomas, self-crowned arbiter of pure Welshness, received the English Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

R.S. treated me to a pint of bitter in the pub; then each of us had steak and kidney pie with chips and peas, which is quintessential English pub fare.

No one knows precisely where R. S. Thomas lives in the borders between Welshness and Englishness.