Souillac: Le Sacrifice d’Abraham by R. S. Thomas

And he grasps him by the hair

With innocent savagery.

And the son’s face is calm;

There is trust there.

 

And the beast looks on.

 

This is what art could do,

Interpreting faith

With serene chisel.

The resistant stone

Is quiet as our breath,

And is accepted.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)


Fun fact: Souillac is a small market town, and is the hub for the area. This is an agricultural region which is known for its walnuts, strawberries and quiet, rural way of life. Thomas visited the abbey church of Sainte-Marie in this town and that is the subject of this poem. The domed roofs are similar to but rather smaller than those of Périgueux Cathedral. Fragments of the original Romanesque sculptures are grouped just inside the west door.

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In Great Waters by R. S. Thomas

You are there also

at the foot of the precipice

of water that was too steep

for the drowned: their breath broke

and they fell. You have made an altar

out of the deck of the lost

trawler whose spars

are your cross. The sand crumbles

like bread; the wine is

the light quietly lying

in its own chalice. There is

a sacrament there more beauty

than terror whose ministrant

you are and the aisles are full

of the sea shapes coming to its celebration.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)

Gift by R. S. Thomas

Some ask the world

and are diminished

in the receiving

of it. You gave me

 

only this small pool

that the more I drink

from, the more overflows

me with sourceless light.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Funeral by R. S. Thomas

They stand about conversing

In dark clumps, less beautiful than trees.

What have they come here to mourn?

There was a death, yes; but death’s brother,

Sin, is of more importance.

Shabbily the teeth gleam,

Sharpening themselves on reputations

That were firm once. On the cheap coffin

The earth falls more cleanly than tears.

What are these red faces for?

This incidence of pious catarrh

At the grave’s edge? He has returned

Where he belongs; this is acknowledged

By all but the lonely few

Making amends for the heart’s coldness

He had from them, grudging a little

The simple splendour of the wreath

Of words the church lays on him.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)

Jerusalem by R. S. Thomas

A city – its name

keeps it intact. Don’t

touch it. Let the muezzin’s

cry, the blood call

 

of the Christian, the wind

from sources desiccated

as the spirit drift over

its scorched walls. Time

 

devourer of its children

chokes here on the fact

it is in high places love

condescends to be put to death.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

The Kingdom by R. S. Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:

Festivals at which the poor man

Is king and the consumptive is

Healed; mirrors in which the blind look

At themelves and love looks at them

Back; and industry is for mending

The bent bones and the minds fractured

By life. It’s a long way off, but to get

There takes no time and admission

Is free, if you will purge yourself

Of desire, and present yourself with

Your need only and the simple offering

Of your faith, green as a leaf.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)