Tidal by R. S. Thomas

The waves run up the shore
and fall back. I run
up the approaches of God
and fall back. The breakers return
reaching a little further,
gnawing away at the main land.
They have done this thousands
of years, exposing little by little
the rock under the soil’s face.
I must imitate them only
in my return to the assault,
not in their violence. Dashing
my prayers at him will achieve
little other than the exposure
of the rock under his surface.
My returns must be made
on my knees. Let despair be known
as my ebb-tide; but let prayer
have its springs, too, brimming,
disarming him; discovering somewhere
among his fissures deposits of mercy
where trust may take root and grow.

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

Emerging by R. S. Thomas

Well, as I said, better to wait
for him on some peninsula
of the spirit. Surely for one
with patience he will happen by
once in a while. It was the heart
spoke. The mind, sceptical as always
of the anthropomorphisms
of the fancy, knew he must be put together
like a poem or a composition
in music, that what he conforms to
is art. A promontory is a bare
place; no God leans down
out of the air to take the hand
extended to him. The generations have
watched there
in vain. We are beginning to see
now it is matter is the scaffolding
of spirit; that the poem emerges
from morphemes and phonemes; that
as form in sculpture is the prisoner
of the hard rock, so in everyday life
it is the plain facts and natural happenings
that conceal God and reveal him to us
little by little under the mind’s tooling.

.

By R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)

‘God’s fool, God’s jester’ by R. S. Thomas

God’s fool, God’s jester

capering at his right hand

in torment, proving the fallacy

of the impassible, reminding

him of omnipotence’s limits.

.

I have seen the figure

on our human tree, burned

into it by thought’s lightning

and it writhed as I looked.

.

A god had no alternative

but himself. With what crown

plurality but with thorns?

Whose is the mirthless laughter

at the beloved irony

at his side? The universe over,

omniscience warns, the crosses

are being erected from such

material as is available

to remorse. What are the stars

but time’s fires going out

before ever the crucified

can be taken down?

Today

there is only this one option

before me. Remembering,

as one goes out into space,

on the way to the sun,

how dark it will grow,

I stare up into the darkness

of his countenance, knowing it

a reflection of the three days and nights

at the back of love’s looking-

glass even a god must spend.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Counterpoint; 3. Crucifixion (1990)

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)

Alive by R. S. Thomas

It is alive. It is you,

God. Looking out I can see,

no death. The earth moves, the

sea moves, the wind goes

on its exuberant

journeys. Many creatures

reflect you, the flowers

your colour, the tides the precision

of your calculations. There

is nothing too ample

for you to overflow, nothing

so small that your workmanship

is not revealed. I listen

and it is you speaking.

I find the place where you lay

warm. At night, if I waken,

there are the sleepless conurbations

of the stars. The darkness

is the deepening shadow

of your presence; the silence a

process in the metabolism

of the being of love.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit

(1975)