Sunday, 2 March 2008

R S Thomas meets Wallace Stevens - part 2

In his poem 'Homage to Wallace Stevens' (scroll-on down) R S Thomas, the priest-poet from Wales, pointed out that Stevens' poetry was a church in which curious marriages were conducted and in which metaphors were burned like incense. Stevens does not deny this. In fact he illustrates the point himself in a poem from 'Transport to Summer'.

Thinking of a Relation between the Images of Metaphors

The wood-doves are singing along the Perkiomen.
The bass lie deep, still afraid of the Indians.

In the one ear of the fisherman, who is all
One ear, the wood-doves are singing a single song.

The bass keep looking ahead, upstream, in one
Direction, shrinking from the spit and splash

Of waterish spears. The fisherman is all
One eye, in which the dove resembles the dove.

There is one dove, one bass, one fisherman.
Yet coo becomes rou-coo, rou-coo. How close

To the unstated theme each variation comes...
In that one ear it might strike perfectly:

State the disclosure. In that one eye the dove
Might spring to sight and yet remain a dove.

The fisherman might be the single man
In whose breast, the dove, alighting, would grow still.

Poet-in-Residence suspects that R S Thomas, being a fisherman of souls, would have appreciated that one. But his reply, in this imaginary P-i-R debate, comes not from his poem 'Negative' - a poem that begins: One word. Say it. / 'No.' No is the word, then? / 'No,' Stevens misled us. but maybe with this questioning extract found in another R S Thomas poem. The Welsh priest-poet enjoyed nothing more than to get into his doomsday Man v. Machine/Science/Bacteria/Genetics/mode.

from Winged God

All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvanistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror - how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity's control...

or if not that one then certainly the following extract from 'The Echoes Return Slow', picking up on Wallace's 'dove' theme.

from The Echoes Return Slow

Fleeing for protection
from the triviality
of my thought to the thought
of its triviality - what sanctuary

there? The barbarians
are at the door. The old
forces of nihilism
and bad faith have no respect

for such altars. Dove of God,
self-powered, return
to this wrecked ark, though it be
with radiation in your bill.


  1. Hello Gwilym...I'm looking forward to reading your blog regularly. I've always enjoyed reading your own poems on the jbwb web site and I've downloaded your e-book (well, it's on my computer - I can't afford to print it out - too much ink!). Thanks anyway - keep up the good's all such a treat :-)

  2. enjoying this more thomas please

  3. hello gigi and jon...thanks to both of you for your posts and encouragement - glad you're both enjoying the poems!


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