Hill Christmas by R. S. Thomas

They came over the snow to the bread's

pure snow, fumbled it in their huge

hands, put their lips to it

like beasts, stared into the dark chalice

where the wine shone, felt it sharp

on their tongue, shivered as at a sin

remembered, and heard love cry

momentarily in their hearts' manager.


They rose and went back to their poor

holdings, naked in the bleak light

of December. Their horizon contracted

to the one small, stone-riddled field

with its tree, where the weather was nailing

the appalled body that had not asked to be born.


by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
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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)

Amen by R. S. Thomas

It was all arranged:

the virgin with child, the birth

in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill

to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold

it, the scriptures conditioned him

to accept it. Judas went to his work

with his sour kiss; what else

could he do?

A wise old age,

the honours awarded for lasting,

are not for a saviour. He had

to be killed; salvation acquired

by an increased guilt. The tree,

with its roots in the mind’s dark,

was divinely planted, the original fork

in existence. There is no meaning in life,

unless men can be found to reject

love. God needs his martyrdom.

The mild eyes stare from the Cross

in perverse triumph. What does he care

that the people’s offerings are so small?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Llananno by R. S. Thomas

I often call there.

There are no poems in it

for me. But as a gesture

of independence of the speeding

traffic I am a part

of, I stop the car,

turn down the narrow path

to the river, and enter

the church with its clear reflection

beside it.

There are few services

now; the screen has nothing

to hide. Face to face

with no intermediary

between me and God, and only the water’s

quiet insistence on a time

older than man, I keep my eyes

open and am not dazzled,

so delicately does the light enter

my soul from the serene presence

that waits for me till I come next.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)


 

Llananno has a church and the screen mentioned in this poem has been restored. Here are some links if you want to learn about the poem’s subject:

Information with links to maps and more detailed information about the area: http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/RAD/Llananno

Information about the church and its screen’s restoration: http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/llananno-rood/llananno-rood.htm

 

The Chapel by R. S. Thomas

A little aside from the main road,

becalmed in a last-century greyness,

there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal

to the tourist to stop his car

and visit it. The traffic goes by,

and the river goes by, and quick shadows

of clouds, too, and the chapel settles

a little deeper into the grass.

 

But here once on an evening like this,

in the darkness that was about

his hearers, a preacher caught fire

and burned steadily before them

with a strange light, so that they saw

the spendour of the barren mountains

about them and sang their amens

fiercely, narrow but saved

in a way that men are not now.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Good Friday by R. S. Thomas

It was quiet. What had the sentry

to cry, but that it was the ninth hour

and all was not well? The darkness

begun to lift, but it was not the mind

 

was illumined. The carpenter

had done his work well to sustain

the carpenter’s burden; the Cross an example

of the power of art to transcend timber.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)