Saturday, October 8, 2011


I will be among those ordering a book of the poetry of the recently-announced winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Swedish poet Thomas Transtromer. In the meantime, the announcement brings to mind another small-country (and, in his case, back country) writer, R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest and poet who died in 2000, and who was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize. 

Nobel or not, I agree with those who say that Thomas’ place in history will match that of John Donne or George Herbert. That is to say, he will be ranked among the greatest of religious poets. (Although for Thomas, “religious” has as much to do with doubt as with faith.)

Here are three by R.S. Thomas

The Empty Church

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illumined walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

Near and Far

No one so busy
as you are. Where is that
seventh day when you rest
from your labour? I arise
from sleep to find that
you have been all night growing.
And by day you are abroad
endlessly exploring a circumference
by which you are not confined.
You have no words yet vibrate
in me with the resonance of an Amen.
You are strung with light
as with nerves across which
thought is drawn to deliver
intellectual music. Sometimes
you are an impulse upon my walls,
at others a modifying
of unseen organisms, slowly
and delicately as a mutation;
but always as far off
as you are near, terrifying
me as much by your proximity
as by your being light-years away.

A Marriage

We met
under a shower
of bird-notes.
Fifty years passed,
love's moment
in a world in
servitude to time.
She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
`Come,' said death,
choosing her as his
partner for
the last dance, and she,
who in life
had done everything
with a bird's grace,
opened her bill now
for the shedding
of one sigh no
heavier than a feather. 
More about R.S. Thomas here and here.