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)

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H’m by R. S. Thomas

and one said

speak to us of love

and the preacher opened

his mouth and the word God

fell out so they tried

again speak to us

of God then but the preacher

was silent reaching

his arms out but the little

children the ones with

big bellies and bow

legs that were like

a razor shell

were too weak to come

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

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 Belfry by R. S. Thomas

I have seen it standing up grey,

Gaunt, as though no sunlight

Could ever thaw out the music

Of its great bell; terrible

In its own way, for religion

Is like that. There are times

When a black frost is upon

One’s whole being, and the heart

In its bone belfry hangs and is dumb.

 

But who is to know? Always,

Even in winter in the cold

Of a stone church, on his knees

Someone is praying, whose prayers fall

Steadily through the hard spell

Of weather that is between God

And himself. Perhaps they are warm rain

That brings the sun and afterwards flowers

On the raw graves and throbbing of bells.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

The Empty Church by R. S. Thomas

They laid this stone trap

for him, enticing him with candles,

as though he would come like some huge moth

out of the darkness to beat there.

Ah, he had burned himself

before in the human flame

and escaped, leaving the reason

torn. He will not come any more

 

to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still

striking my prayers on a stone

heart? Is it in hope one

of them will ignite yet and throw

on its illuminated walls the shadow

of someone greater than I can understand?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)

Hireling by R. S. Thomas

Cars pass him by; he’ll never own one.

Men won’t believe in him for this.

Let them come into the hills

And meet him wandering a road,

Fenced with rain, as I have now;

The wind feathering his hair;

The sky’s ruins, gutted with fire

Of the late sun, smouldering still.

 

Nothing is his, neither the land

Nor the land’s flocks. Hired to live

On hills too lonely, sharing his hearth

With cats and hens, he has lost all

Property but the grey ice

Of a face splintered by life’s stone.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Tares (1961)

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)