A Poem by R. S. Thomas

We head into the second week of Dewithon 2022 with a poem from a man who believed in “the true Wales of my imagination”

Ronald Stuart Thomas was a fiery Welsh nationalist poet and Anglican priest, sometimes referred to as “the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Wales” for his outspoken views on the anglicisation of our small nation.

The son of a sea captain, he was born in Cardiff on 29th March 1913, his family moving to Holyhead in 1918 because of his father’s work in the Merchant Navy. After receiving a bursary in 1932, he studied Latin at Bangor’s University College of North Wales before completing his theological training at St Michael’s College, Llandaff. Then in 1936, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in Wales, becoming curate of Chirk for four years, which is where he met the English artist, mural painter and book illustrator Mildred “Elsi” Eldridge, whom he married in 1940.

He subsequently became the curate-in charge of Tallarn Green, Flintshire and assistant to the Reverend Thomas Meredith-Morris – grandfather of the brilliantly gifted Lorna Sage. Between 1942 and 1954, he was rector of St Michael’s Church, Manafon, which is where he studied Welsh (learning the language at the age of 30) and had his first three volumes of poetry published.

Thomas’s great breakthrough as a poet occurred with his critically lauded fourth collection, Song at the Year’s Turning, published in 1955, introduced by John Betjeman. He won the Royal Society of Literature’s Heinemann Award with his poem of the same title and went on to write two prose works in Welsh, Neb (Nobody) and Blwyddyn yn Llŷn (A Year in Llŷn). He won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964.

After spending the years 1967 to 1978 as vicar of St Hywyn’s Church in Aberdaron, he retired to a small, unheated cottage in Y Rhiw – where the temperature frequently dipped below freezing – becoming a political activist, an ardent supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a passionate supporter of Welsh nationalism, receiving the Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1996.

He died at the age of 87 on 25th September 2000, and is most fondly remembered for his works concerning the Welsh landscape and its people.

The Cat and the Sea

It is a matter of a black cat
On a bare cliff top in March
Whose eyes anticipate
The gorse petals;

The formal equation of
A domestic purr
With the cold interiors
Of the sea’s mirror.

(See two interpretations of this enigmatic work from All Poetry and Cat Poetry)

 



Categories: Reading Wales

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15 replies

  1. Diolch, thank you for this. If anyone reading this likes RS Thomas then you might be interested in facebook.com/groups/RSThomas/ and/or twitter @RSThomaspoet – share RS Thomas poems, quotes, events, info, Q&A etc…
    – and there’s a Society you can join… rsthomaspoetry.co.uk/rs-thomas-me-eldridge-society/

  2. Such a short poem and yet so complex and so much to reflect on. Its a real accomplishment to be enigmatic and yet still accessible. Thank you for sharing Paula.

  3. Thank you for this. Thomas is a huge favourite of mine – such a wonderful poet.

  4. What an intriguing poem, and two very interesting interpretations as well, though reading them I felt I’d be more likely to interpret it like the second one. I’m going to spend some time pondering over this, and of course will link it to the Keli page.

  5. Excellent choice Paula. One of my favourites is of course Welsh Landscape – https://mypoeticside.com/show-classic-poem-30990

  6. What a wonderfully enigmatic poem! I don’t know the work of Thomas, but have enjoyed reading what has been posted about it.

    • Isn’t it just! Thomas is one of the most important poets of modern Wales and a great deal of his work expresses his views on Welsh landscape and culture. He was quite a formidable character and, to my mind, rather intimidating (he always looks so sombre in photographs) – though, perhaps his friends and family would tell you a different story – but he was undoubtedly an exceptional wordsmith. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this poem, Julé.

  7. I enjoyed reading about this poet – thanks for sharing! He gets bonus points from me for putting a cat in his poem. 🙂

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