‘God’s fool, God’s jester’ by R. S. Thomas

God’s fool, God’s jester

capering at his right hand

in torment, proving the fallacy

of the impassible, reminding

him of omnipotence’s limits.

.

I have seen the figure

on our human tree, burned

into it by thought’s lightning

and it writhed as I looked.

.

A god had no alternative

but himself. With what crown

plurality but with thorns?

Whose is the mirthless laughter

at the beloved irony

at his side? The universe over,

omniscience warns, the crosses

are being erected from such

material as is available

to remorse. What are the stars

but time’s fires going out

before ever the crucified

can be taken down?

Today

there is only this one option

before me. Remembering,

as one goes out into space,

on the way to the sun,

how dark it will grow,

I stare up into the darkness

of his countenance, knowing it

a reflection of the three days and nights

at the back of love’s looking-

glass even a god must spend.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Counterpoint; 3. Crucifixion (1990)

Healing by R. S. Thomas

Sick wards. The sailed beds

becalmed. The nurses tack

hither and fro. The chloroform

breeze rises and falls.

Hospitals are their own

weather. The temperatures

have no relation

to the world outside. The surgeons,

those cunning masters

of navigation, follow

their scalpels’ compass through

hurricanes of pain to a calm

harbour. Somewhere far down

in the patient’s darkness,

where faith died, like a graft

or a transplant prayer

get to work, repairing

the soul’s tissue, leading

the astonishing self between

twin pillars, where life’s angels

stand wielding their bright swords of flame.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times

(1992)

Alive by R. S. Thomas

It is alive. It is you,

God. Looking out I can see,

no death. The earth moves, the

sea moves, the wind goes

on its exuberant

journeys. Many creatures

reflect you, the flowers

your colour, the tides the precision

of your calculations. There

is nothing too ample

for you to overflow, nothing

so small that your workmanship

is not revealed. I listen

and it is you speaking.

I find the place where you lay

warm. At night, if I waken,

there are the sleepless conurbations

of the stars. The darkness

is the deepening shadow

of your presence; the silence a

process in the metabolism

of the being of love.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit

(1975)

Sailors’ Hospital by R. S. Thomas

It was warm

Inside, but there was

Pain there, I came out

Into the cold wind

Of April. There were birds

In the brambles’ old,

Jagged iron, with one striking

Its small song. To the west,

Rising from the grey

Water, leaning one

On another were the town’s

Houses. Who first began

That refuse: time’s waste

Growing at the edge

Of the clean sea? Some sailor,

Fetching up on the

Shingle before wind

Or current, made it his

Harbour, hung up his clothes

In the sunlight; found women

To breed from – those sick men

His descendants. Every day

Regularly the tide

Visits them with its salt

Comfort; their wounds are shrill

In the rigging of the

Tall ships.

With clenched thoughts,

That not even the sky’s

Daffodil could persuade

To open, I turned back

To the nurses in their tugging

At him, as he drifted

Away on the current

Of his breath, further and further,

Out of hail of our love.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

Threshold by R S Thomas

I emerge from the mind’s

cave into the worse darkness

outside, where things pass and

the Lord is in none of them.

.

I have heard the still, small voice

and it was that of the bacteria

demolishing my cosmos. I

have lingered too long on

.

this threshold, but where can I go?

To look back is to lose the soul

I was leading upward towards

the light. To look forward? Ah,

.

what balance is needed at

the edges of such an abyss.

I am alone on the surface

of a turning planet. What

.

to do but, like Michelangelo’s

Adam, put my hand

out into unknown space,

hoping for the reciprocating touch?

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Later Poems (1983)

Carol by R. S. Thomas

What is Christmas without
snow? We need it
as bread of a cold
climate, ermine to trim

our sins with, a brief
sleeve for charity’s
scarecrow to wear its heart
on, bold as a robin.

by R. S. Thomas
from Later Poems
(1983)

Pavane by R. S. Thomas

Convergences,
Of the spirit! What
Century, love? I,
Too; you remember -
Brescia? This sunlight reminds
Of the brocade. I dined
Long. And now the music
Of darkness in your eyes
Sounds. But Brescia,
And the spreading foliage
Of smoke! With Yeats' birds
Grown hoarse.
Artificer
Of the years, is this
Your answer? The long dream
Unwound; we followed
Through time to the tryst
With ourselves. But wheels roll
Between and the shadow
Of the plane falls. The
Victim remains
Nameless on the tall
Steps. Master, I
Do not wish, I do not wish
To continue.


by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)

Extra information:

The pavane, pavan, paven, pavin, pavian, pavine, or pavyn (It. pavana, padovana; Ger. Paduana) is a slow processional dance common in Europe during the 16th century (Renaissance).

Also the poem might refer to the pavane, a sedate and dignified couple dance, similar to the 15th-century basse danse. The music which accompanied it appears originally to have been fast or moderately fast but, like many other dances, became slower over time.

Brescia is a city and comune in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. It is situated at the foot of the Alps, a few kilometres from the lakes Garda and Iseo. With a population of more than 200,000, it is the second largest city in the region and the fourth of northwest Italy. The urban area of Brescia extends beyond the administrative city limits and has a population of 672,822, while over 1.5 million people live in its metropolitan area. The city is the administrative capital of the Province of Brescia, one of the largest in Italy, with over 1,200,000 inhabitants.

On The Farm by R. S. Thomas

There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.

There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.

There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.

And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life's dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.


by R. S. Thomas
from The Bread of Truth (1963)

Winged God by R. S. Thomas

All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, 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
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?

by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce With The Furies (1995)

Easter by R.S. Thomas

Easter. I go to church
to proclaim with my fellows
I believe in the Ressurection -
of what? Here everything
is electric and automatic.
In April a myriad bulbs
are switched on as flowers
incandesce; a new generation
of creatures rehearses
its genetic code. All this is easy.
Earth is a self-regulating
machine; everything happens
because it must. My faith
is in the inevitability
of creation. There will come a day -
dust under a dry sun,
ashes under its incineration...
is there somewhere in all
the emptiness of the universe
a fertile star where the old
metaphors wil apply, where
the bugling daffodil will sound
abroad not the last post, but
a gush of music out of an empty tomb?

by R.S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems