Shrine at Cape Clear by R.S. Thomas

She is more white than the sea’s

Purest spray, and colder

To touch. She is nourished

By salt winds, and the prayers

Of the drowned break on her. She smiles

At the stone angels, who have turned

From the sea’s truth to worship

The mystery of her dumb child.

The bay brings her the tribute

Of its silences. The ocean has left

An offering of the small flowers

Of its springs; but the men read,

Beyond the harbour on the horizon,

The fury of its obituaries

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Fun fact: The poem refers to Cape Clear Island off the coast of Ireland. Clear Island or Cape Clear Island (officially known by its Irish name: Cléire, and sometimes also called Oileán Chléire) lies south-west of County Cork in Ireland. It is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people. Officially it is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), and most inhabitants speak Irish and English. Archaeological sites on the island include a prehistoric cup-marked stone (moved to the island’s museum), a fulacht fiadh at Gort na Lobhar, a neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, several standing stones around the island, a promontory fort at Dún an Óir, and a signal tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The island also has a number of early Christian sites, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Ciarán of Saigir. The ruins of 12th century church are close to the main pier.

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Kneeling by R.S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God

To speak; the air a staircase

For silence; the sun’s light

Ringing me, as though I acted

A great rôle. And the audiences

Still; all that close throng

Of spirits waiting, as I,

For the message.

Prompt me, God;

But not yet. When I speak,

Though it be you who speak

Through me, something is lost.

The meaning is in the waiting.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

A Life by R.S. Thomas

Lived long; much fear, less

courage. Bottom in love’s school

of his class; time’s reasons

too far back to be known.

Good on his knees, yeilding,

vertical, to petty temptations.

A mouth thoughts escaped

from unfledged. Where two

were company, he the unwanted

third. A Narcissus tortured

by the whisperers behind

the mirror. Visionary only

in his perception of an horizon

beyond the horizon. Doubtful

of God, too pusillanimous

to deny him. Saving his face

in verse from the humiliations prose

inflicted on him. One of life’s

conscientious objectors, conceding

nothing to the propaganda of death

but a compulsion to volunteer.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

 

The Bright Field by R.S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

the treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

‘God smiled. The controls’ by R. S. Thomas

God smiled. The controls

were working; the small

eaten by the large, the large

by the larger. One problem

remained: the immunity

of a species. ‘Easy,’

the jester at his side

whispered, indicating

the air’s window that the germs

thronged. God opened it a crack, and the human edifice

was dismantled. Among the ruins

one, stupider than the rest,

sat, seeing history’s wheel

idle, putting a hand out, ready

to start it all over again.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Counterpoint (1990)

The Moor by R. S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.

I entered it on soft foot,

Breath held like a cap in the hand.

It was quiet.

What God was there made himself felt,

Not listened to, in clean colours

That brought a moistening of the eye,

In movement of the wind over grass.

 

There were no prayers said. But stillness

Of the heart’s passions – that was praise

Enough; and the mind’s cession

Of its kingdom. I walked on,

Simple and poor, while the air crumbled

And broke on me generously as bread.

 

by R. S Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

Pietà by R. S. Thomas

Always the same hills

Crowd the horizon,

Remote witnesses

Of the still scene.

 

And in the foreground

The tall Cross,

Sombre, untenanted,

Aches for the Body

That is back in the cradle

Of a maid’s arms.

 

By R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)