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)

Shrine at Cape Clear by R.S. Thomas

She is more white than the sea’s

Purest spray, and colder

To touch. She is nourished

By salt winds, and the prayers

Of the drowned break on her. She smiles

At the stone angels, who have turned

From the sea’s truth to worship

The mystery of her dumb child.

The bay brings her the tribute

Of its silences. The ocean has left

An offering of the small flowers

Of its springs; but the men read,

Beyond the harbour on the horizon,

The fury of its obituaries

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Fun fact: The poem refers to Cape Clear Island off the coast of Ireland. Clear Island or Cape Clear Island (officially known by its Irish name: Cléire, and sometimes also called Oileán Chléire) lies south-west of County Cork in Ireland. It is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people. Officially it is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), and most inhabitants speak Irish and English. Archaeological sites on the island include a prehistoric cup-marked stone (moved to the island’s museum), a fulacht fiadh at Gort na Lobhar, a neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, several standing stones around the island, a promontory fort at Dún an Óir, and a signal tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The island also has a number of early Christian sites, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Ciarán of Saigir. The ruins of 12th century church are close to the main pier.