Sunday, 9 March 2008

R S Thomas meets Wallace Stevens, part 3

We continue with our fictious meeting of the poet-priest and the poetic insurance man; R S Thomas meets once again the poet he admired for his use of metaphors and adjectives, Wallace Stevens. The two poems this time are 'Two Views of a Gorilla' from Thomas and arguably Stevens' most famous poem, 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird'. Are these two poets, in a way saying the same thing, although coming from different standpoints? Is the 8th verse of Stevens' poem giving the same basic message as the 2nd verse of the Thomas poem? And what of Thomas's concluding lines about '...stars in a frenzy...'? Two piercing poems deserving of lengthy and serious contemplation. There is no easy answer. It is all a matter of feeling.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Wallace Stevens (Harmonium)

And now to R S Thomas's observation of the gorilla. The male and the female of the species and the gorilla make two. Perhaps inspired by the 4th verse of 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird'?

Two Views of a Gorilla

We confront one another,
a meeting not of minds
but of fingers. Is it sadness
I imagine on his gnarled
face, sadness for failure
to catch up; sadness rather
for what I have become,
a brother who has put him
behind bars, when all he asks
of me is that I love him?
When two such contemplate
each other, which is made monster
by the bars that are between them?

Dying, she puts out a finger
in my diretion; trembling
I touched it. The gorilla
postponing the death of the species
behind bars, puts out a hand, too,
which I take, putting the stars
in a frenzy. All over the night
sky their alarm rings,
warning of the danger
that, in all the emptiness
around, when two creatures
meet, they can come so close
via the emotions to meaning.

R S Thomas (Unpublished Poems)

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