Perspectives

By R. S. Thomas 1913–2000
Primeval

Beasts rearing from green slime—
an illiterate country, unable to read
its own name. Stones moved into position
on the hills’ sides; snakes laid their eggs
in their cold shadow. The earth suffered
the sky’s shrapnel, bled yellow
into the enraged sea. At night heavily
over the heaving forests the moon
sagged. The ancestors of the tigers
brightened their claws. Such sounds
as there were came from the strong
torn by the stronger. The dawn tilted
an unpolished mirror for the runt mind
to look at itself in without recognition.


Neolithic

I shall not be here,
and the way things are going
now won’t want to be.
Wheels go no faster
than what pulls them. That land
visible over the sea
in clear weather, they say
we will get there some time
soon and take possession
of it. What then? More acres
to cultivate and no markets
for the crops.
                       The young
are not what they were,
smirking at the auspices
of the entrails. Some think
there will be a revival.
I don’t believe it. This
plucked music has come
to stay. The natural breathing
of the pipes was to
a different god. Imagine
depending on the intestines
of a polecat for accompaniment
to one’s worship! I have
attended at the sacrifice
of the language that is the liturgy
the priests like, and felt
the draught that was God
leaving. I think some day
there will be nothing left
but to go back to the place
I came from and wrap
myself in the memory
of how I was young
once and under the covenant
of that God not given to folly.


Christian

They were bearded
like the sea they came
from; rang stone bells
for their stone hearers.

Their cells fitted them
like a coffin.
Out of them their prayers
seeped, delicate

flowers where weeds
grew. Their dry bread
broke like a bone.
Wine in the cup

was a blood-stained mirror
for sinners to look
into with one eye
closed, and see themselves forgiven.


Mediaeval

I was my lord’s bard,
telling again sweetly
what had been done bloodily.

We lived in a valley;
he had no lady.
Fame was our horizon.

In the spring of the year
the wind brought the news
of a woman’s beauty.

Her eyes were still stones
in her smooth-running hair.
Her voice was the birds’ envy.

We made a brave foray;
the engagement was furious.
We came back alone.

Sing me, my lord said,
the things nearer home:
my falcons, my horse.

I did so, he listened.
My harp was of fire;
the notes bounced like sparks

off his spirit’s anvil.
To-morrow, he promised,
we will ride forth again.


Modern

And the brittle gardens
of Dinorwig, deep
in the fallen petals of
their slate flowers: such the autumn

of a people! Whose spring
is it sleeps in a glass
bulb, ready to astonish us
with its brilliance? Bring

on the dancing girls
of the future, the swaying
pylons with their metal
hair bickering towards England.

R. S. Thomas, “Perspectives” from The Poems of R. S. Thomas. Copyright © by Kunjana Thomas 2001.  Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

Source: The Poems of R. S. Thomas (1985)

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Poet R. S. Thomas 1913–2000

POET’S REGION Wales

Subjects Living, Time & Brevity, Nature, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Christianity, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

 R. S. Thomas

Biography

Recognized as one of the leading poets of modern Wales, R. S. Thomas writes about the people of his country in a style that some critics have compared to that nation's harsh and rugged terrain. Using few of the common poetic devices, Thomas's work exhibits what Alan Brownjohn of the New Statesman calls a "cold, telling purity of language." James F. Knapp of Twentieth Century Literature explains that "the poetic world which . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Time & Brevity, Nature, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Christianity, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION Wales

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