Thursday, 28 February 2008

R S Thomas meets Wallace Stevens - part 1

Poet-in-Residence compares the work of a Nobel Prize nominee from Wales and a Pulitzer Prize winner from the USA, one a priest and the other an insurance man.
Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955) was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. He came to notice, at the age of 35, when four of his poems appearing in a special 1914 wartime issue of 'Poetry' won a prize.
Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913 - 2000) was born in Cardiff, the Welsh capital. He became a priest in 1937. In 1946, at the age of 33, he published his first collection 'The Stones of the Field'.
The following poem is by Wallace Stevens. It comes from his 'Transport to Summer'.

Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit

If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,

Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato's ghost

Or Aristotle's skeleton. Let him hang out
His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.

He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.

It is the human that demands his speech
From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermilioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.


The next poem is from R S Thomas's collection 'No Truce with the Furies'.

Homage to Wallace Stevens

I turn now
not to the Bible
but to Wallace Stevens.
Insured against
everything but the muse
what has the word-wizard
to say? His adjectives
are the wand he waves
so language gets up
and dances under
a fastidious moon.
We walk a void world,
he implies for which
in the absence of imagination,
there is no hope. Verbal bank-clerk,
acrobat walking a rhythmic tight-rope,
trapeze artist of the language
his was a kind of double-entry
poetics. He kept two columns
of thought going, balancing meaning
against his finances. His poetry
was his church and in it
curious marriages were conducted.
He burned his metaphors like incense,
so his syntax was as high
as his religion.
Blessings, Stevens;
I stand with my back to grammar
at an altar you never aspired
to, celebrating the sacrament
of the imagination whose high-priest
notwithstanding you are.


A promising start then. The connection made. It's a good one. Poet-in-Residence takes up Thomas's poetic cross. The unfolding path will be more than interesting.


  1. looking forward to this meeting

  2. me too!
    a meeting of two poetic minds - one insured to the hilt in this world and the other in the next


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