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)

Something More by R. S. Thomas

You remain contented
with your anonymity.
We ask for survival
for John Jones.
We acknowledge the tree
that at moments
you are ablaze in,
taking our shoes
off, involuntarily remembering
there is dung at its roots.

They say there is a pool
at the bottom of which
you lie, and that we ourselves
are the troublers
of its surface. But why,
when we look down,
is it as though
we looked up at our own faces
at home there among the cloud branches?

by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

The John Jones mentioned in this poem is better known by his bardic name Jac Glan-y-gors. He was a Welsh language satirical poet and radical pamphleteer, born in Cerrigydrudion, Denbighshire, north Wales. He was an accomplished and natural prose writer although his output was small. His best known prose works are Seren Tan Gwmmwl and Toriad y Dydd, political tracts addressed to the Welsh people which reflect the radical ideals of Thomas Paine and the author’s Welsh patriotism.

His poetical output is more considerable and includes the poem entitled Cerdd Dic Siôn Dafydd (Dic Siôn Dafydd – Richard son of John son of David – is the name given to a Welshman who despises his language and who imitates the English.

Eschatology by R. S. Thomas

It was our last inter-glacial:
the flies, people,
the one as numerous
as the other. We talked
peace, and brought our arms up to date.
The young ones professed
love, embarassing themselves
with their language. As though
coming round on a new
gyre, we approached God
from the far side, an extinct concept.
no one returned from our space
probes, yet still there were
volunteers, believing that as
gravity slackened its hold
on the body, so would time
on the mind. Our scientists,
immaculately dressed not
conceived, preached to us
from their space-stations, calling us
to consider the clockwork birds
and fabricated lilies, how they
also, as they were conditioned to
do, were neither toiling nor spinning.


by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)E

Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world and the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament. The part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

Thomas approaches this with a cynical mindset having lived through the threat of a nuclear winter during the Cold War, hippies during the Summer of Love and diminishing church attendance as people favour logic over faith. He bitterly reflects that science is no closer to answering the great questions of existence, posed by eschatology, than theology yet one is dismissed while the other embraced.

Throughout the poem he plays with Christian terminology and imagery to indicate the substitution of Christ with scientists, everlasting life after death with an effort to achieve immortality during this life instead and how to him it is, in comparison, an artificial form of true enlightenment and surpassing our mortal bonds.

The Un-born by R. S. Thomas

I have seen the child in the womb,
neither asking to be born
or not to be born, biding its time
without the knowledge of time,
model for the sulptor who would depict
the tranquility that inheres
before thought, or the purity of thought
without language. Its smile forgave
the anachronism of the nomenclature
that would keep it foetal. Its hand
opened delicately as flowers
in innocency's grave.
Was its part written? I have seen
it waiting breathlessly in the wings
to come forth on to a stage
of soil or concrete, where wings
are a memory only or an aspiration.

by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

One Day by R.S. Thomas

In that day language

shall expose its sores,

begging for the alms

we can not give. ‘Leave it’

we shall say, ‘on the pavement

of the quotidian.’ There is

a cause there is nobody

to plead, yet whose sealed lips

are its credentials. What

does the traveller to your door

ask, but that you sit down

and share with him that

for which there are no words?

I look forward to the peace

conferences of the future

when lies, hidden behind speeches,

shall have their smiles blown away

by the dove’s wings, fanning in silence.

 

by R. S. Thomas

Mass for Hard Times (1992)