The Fair by R. S. Thomas

The idiot goes round and around
With his brother in a bumping car
At the fair. The famous idiot
Smile hangs over the car's edge,
Illuminating nothing. This is mankind
Being taken for a ride by a rich
Relation. The responses are fixed:
Bump, smile; bump, smile. And the current

Is generated by the smooth flow
Of the shillings. This is an orchestra
Of steel with the constant percussion
Of laughter. But where he should be laughing
Too, his features are split open, and look!
Out of the cracks come warm, human tears.


by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)

The Fisherman by R. S. Thomas

A simple man,
He liked the crease on the water
His cast made, but had no pity
For the broken backbone
Of water or fish.

One of his pleasures, thirsty,
Was to ask a drink
At the hot farms;
Leaving with a casual thank you,
As though they owed it him.

I could have told of the living water
That springs pure.
He would have smiled then,
Dancing his speckled fly in the shallows,
Not understanding.

by R. S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

The Age [Excerpt] by Osip Mandelstam

Buds will swell just as in the past,

Sprouts of green will spurt and rage,

but your backbone has been smashed,

my grand and pitiful age.

 

And so, with a meaningless smile,

you glance back, cruel and weak,

like a beast once quick and agile,

at the prints of your own feet.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler


Directions by R.S. Thomas

In this desert of language

we find ourselves in,

with the sign-post with the word ‘God’

worn away

and the distance… ?

 

Pity the simpleton

with his mouth open crying:

How far is it to God?

 

And the wiseacre says: Where you were,

friend.

You know the smile

glossy

as the machine that thinks it has outpaced

belief?

I am one of those

who sees from the arms opened

to embrace the future

the shadow of the Cross fall

on the smoothest of surfaces

causing me to stumble.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Between Here and Now (1981)

Pen Llŷn by R. S. Thomas

Dafydd looked out;

I look out: five centuries

without change? The same sea breaks

on the same shore and is not

broken. The stone in Llŷn

is still there, honey-

coloured for a girl’s hair

to resemble. It is time’s

smile on the cliff

face at the childishness

of my surprise. Here was the marriage

of land and sea, from whose bickering

the spray rises. ‘Are you there?’

I call into the dumb

past, that is close to me

as my shadow. ‘Are you here?’

I whisper to the encountered

self like one coming

on the truth asleep

and fearing to disturb it.

 

by R. S Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)


Fun facts: Dafydd is the Welsh form of David and St David is the patron saint of Wales. However the Dafydd referenced here could be one of many. I assume it’s Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd (c. 1145 – 1203) who was Prince of Gwynedd from 1170 to 1195 but please comment if you know otherwise.

Pen Llŷn refers to the Llŷn Peninsula (Welsh: Penrhyn Llŷn or Pen Llŷn) extends 30 miles (50 km) into the Irish Sea from north west Wales, south west of the Isle of Anglesey. It is part of the modern county and historic region of Gwynedd. Much of the eastern part of the peninsula, around Criccieth, may be regarded as part of Eifionydd rather than Llŷn, although the boundary is somewhat vague. The area of Llŷn is about 400 km2 (150 sq miles), and its population is at least 20,000. The Llyn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers c. 62 square miles.

Historically, the peninsula was travelled by pilgrims en route to Bardsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Enlli), and its relative isolation has helped to conserve the Welsh language and culture, for which the locality is now famous. This perceived remoteness from urban life has lent the area an unspoilt image which has made Llŷn a popular destination for both tourists and holiday home owners. Holiday homes remain a bone of contention among locals, many of whom are priced out of the housing market by incomers.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, a Welsh nationalist group known as Meibion Glyndŵr claimed responsibility for several hundred arson attacks on holiday homes using incendiary devices, some of which took place in Llŷn. R S Thomas was a well known nationalist who endorsed their actions.  In 1990 the poet and priest R. S. Thomas called for a campaign to deface English-owned homes.