History by R. S. Thomas

It appears before us,

wringing its dry hands,

quoting from Nietzsche’s book,

from Schopenhauer.

 

Sing us, we say,

more sunlit occassions;

the child by the still pool

multiplying reflections.

 

It remains unconsoled

in its dust-storm of tears,

remembering the Crusades,

the tortures, the purges.

 

But time passes by;

it commits adultery

with it to father the cause

of its continued weeping.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Later Poems (1983)

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Sarn Rhiw by R. S. Thomas

So we know

she must have said something

to him – What language,

life? Oh, what language?

 

Thousands of years later

I inhabit a house

whose stone is the language

of its builders. Here

 

by the sea they said little.

But their message to the future

was: Build well. In the fire

of an evening I catch faces

 

staring at me. In April,

when light quickens and clouds

thin, boneless presences

flit through my room.

 

Will they inherit me

one day? What certainties

have I to hand on

like the punctuality

 

with which, at the moon’s

rising, the bay breaks

into a smile as though meaning

were not the difficulty at all?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Aside by R. S. Thomas

Take heart, Prytherch.

Over you the planets stand,

And have seen more ills than yours.

This canker was in the bone

Before man bent to his image

In the pool’s glass. Violence has been

And will be again. Between better

And worse is no bad place

 

For a labourer, whose lot is to seem

Stationary in traffic so fast.

Turn aside, I said; do not turn back.

There is no forward and no back

In the fields, only the year’s two

Solstices, and patience between.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pieta (1966)

In A Country Church by R. S. Thomas

To one kneeling down no word came,

Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips

Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;

Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,

Bats not angels, in the high roof.

 

Was he balked by the silence? He kneeled long,

And saw love in a dark crown

Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree

Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

 

by R. S. Thomas

From Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)

Calling by R. S. Thomas

The telephone is the fruit

of the tree of the knowledge

of good and evil. We may call

everyone up on it but God.

 

To do that is to declare

that he is far off. Dialling

zero is nothing other

than the negation of his presence.

 

So many times I have raised

the receiver, listening to

that smooth sound that is technology’s

purring; and the temptation

 

has come to experiment

with the code which would put

me through to the divine

snarl at the perimeter of such tameness.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

The Journey by R. S. Thomas

And if you go up that way, you will meet with a man,

Leading a horse, whose eyes declare:

There is no God. Take no notice.

There will be other roads and other men

With the same creed, whose lips yet utter

Friendlier greeting, men who have learned

To pack a little of the sun’s light

In their cold eyes, whose hands are waiting

For your hand. But do not linger.

A smile is payment; the road runs on

With many turnings towards the tall

Tree to which the believer is nailed.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)

Time by R. S. Thomas

The pessimist says: Time

goes; the optimist: It is coming.

 

What is this thing, time?

Let Augustine be our spokesman.

 

Its competitor knows its neurosis;

the lover the dragging of its chained feet.

 

Now, we say, looking at the moon

that is the sun in Australia.

 

We keep saving it for the future

and arriving there are insolvent.

 

Young, our hobby was assassinating it.

Old we pray for its recuperation.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)