Thursday, December 22, 2011

R. S. Thomas On Christmas

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).

                                        John Aldridge, "Winter" (1947)

                  Blind Noel

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).

                                 John Nash, "The Garden in Winter" (1967)

                  Lost Christmas

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).

                                     Adrian Paul Allinson (1890-1959)
                         "Landscape with Trees, a Lake and a Village"


Mary F. C. Pratt said...

So good to read some fierce and unsentimental poems about The Coming. Have a Merry Christmas.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mary F. C. Pratt: I'm pleased that you like the poems. Thank you for dropping by again. Merry Christmas to you as well!

Anonymous said...

How wonderful to see a painting by John Nash that I haven't seen before. I'm afraid I prefer his work to that of his more celebrated brother.
But I would like to know who were the painters of the two permanent images on 'First Known When Lost'. I feel I should recognize the modernist landscape, but I just can't place it. The other I guess to be a 19th century work.
Jason Foster.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but of course. The mysterious work is itself another John Nash from an earlier period...
Best regards for Christmas and the New Year.

Jeff said...

Merry Christmas, Stephen! Thanks for bringing so many fine poems to light during 2011.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Foster: I apologize for not responding to you more quickly -- I have been on the road.

You are right about the Nash: "Canal Bridge, Sydney Gardens, Bath" circa 1927.

The other is by C. W. Eckersberg, and I have seen it titled "View of Rome" or, more lengthily, "A View through Three of the Northwestern Arches of the Third Story of the Colosseum" (circa 1815 to 1816).

Thank you very much for stopping by, and for your thoughts. Best wishes to you for Christmas and the New Year.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jeff: thank you very much for your kind words. I am fortunate to have you as a regular reader, and I always look forward to hearing from you. Thank you as well for Quid plura. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.