The word that comes to mind when I think of R. S. Thomas is fierce. However, having said that, I feel that I have fallen into the stereotypical view of Thomas as The World's Grumpiest Poet. To wit, the man who was peremptory when not silent, living in an unheated stone cottage on the coast of Wales. To my mind, this makes him, well, a human being. And, of course, there's this: his poetry is often graceful and beautiful.
Thomas's fierceness is reflected in his lifelong battle with God. This battle consisted of Thomas stubbornly waiting upon God's equally stubborn silence, with Thomas commenting upon this state of affairs in his poems. The battle was made a great deal more piquant by the fact that Thomas served as an Anglican priest for 42 years, ministering to rural parishes in Wales (the subject of another of his love-hate relationships).
All of this leads to a seasonal note: over the years, Thomas wrote a number of lovely Christmas poems. How shall I describe the poems? A bit fierce, yes, but withal lovely. A selection follows.
I choose white, but with
Red on it, like the snow
In winter with its few
Holly berries and the one
Robin, that is a fire
To warm by and like Christ
Comes to us in his weakness,
But with a sharp song.
R. S. Thomas, H'm (1972).
Christmas; the themes are exhausted.
Yet there is always room
on the heart for another
snowflake to reveal a pattern.
Love knocks with such frosted fingers.
I look out. In the shadow
of so vast a God I shiver, unable
to detect the child for the whiteness.
R. S. Thomas, No Truce with the Furies (1995).
He is alone, it is Christmas.
Up the hill go three trees, the three kings.
There is a star also
Over the dark manger. But where is the Child?
Pity him. He has come far
Like the trees, matching their patience
With his. But the mind was before
Him on the long road. The manger is empty.
R. S. Thomas, Young and Old (1972).
"Landscape with Trees, a Lake and a Village"