St Augustine’s, Penarth by Gillian Clarke

 The church is like the prow
Of a smoky ship, moving
On the down channel currents
To the open sea. A stone

Figurehead, the flowing light
Streams from it. From everywhere
You can see Top Church, remote
As high church is from chapel.


Church high on the summit
Of the climbing town
Where I was a child, where rain
Runs always slantingly

On streets like tilted chutes
Of grey sliding on all sides
From the church, to sea and dock,
To shopping streets and home.

Bresting the cloud, its stone
Profile of an ancient priest
Preaches continuity
In the face of turning tides.

by Gillain Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)

Information: St Augustine’s Church is a Grade I listed Gothic Revival nineteenth-century parish church in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. Wales has, historically, had a strong chapel community in the valleys where small community cogregations, with their lay preachers, were far more common than larger organised churches.

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Message by R.S. Thomas

 A message from God
delivered by a bird
at my window, offering friendship.
Listen, such language!
Who said God was without
speech? Every word an injection
to make me smile. Meet me,
it says, to-morrow here
at the same time and you will remember
how wonderful to-day
was: no pain, no worry;
irrelevant the mystery, if
unsolved. I gave you the X-ray
eye for you to use not
to prospect, but to discover
the un-malignancy of love's
growth. You were a patient, too,
anaesthetised on truth's table
with life operating on you
with a green scalpel. Meet me, I say,
to-morrow and I will sing it for you
all over again, when you have come to.


By R.S. Thomas


from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Pause by R.S. Thomas

 'Rest a while,'
says the muse,
but I press on
losing myself between
the dictionary and the blank
page. Wisdom advises,
'Call ber bluff and
she'll come cringing.'
But I am all nerves,
running vocabulary
through my fingers, faster
and faster. And somewhere
before me is
the great poem, wrapped
in its stillness, that
I fool myself into
thinking I will overtake soon
by putting on speed.


by R. S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems

The Casualty by R.S. Thomas

 I had forgotten
the old quest for truth
I was here for Other cares

held me: urgencies
of the body; a girl
beckoned; money

had never appeared
so ethereal; it was God's blood
circulating in the veins

of creation; I partook
of it like Communion, lost
myself on my way

home, with the varying voices
on call. Moving backward
into a receding

future, I lost the use
of perspective, borrowing poetry
to buy my children

their purpose. The past was a poor
king, rendering his crown down
for the historian. Every day

I went on with that
metallic warfare in which
the one casualty is love.


by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Tenancies by R.S. Thomas

 This is pain's landscape.
A savage agriculture is practised
Here; every farm has its
Grandfather or grandmother, gnarled hands
On the cheque-book, a long, slow
Pull on the placenta about the neck.
Old lips monopolise the talk
When a friend calls. The children listen
From the kitchen; the children march
With angry patience against the dawn.
They are waiting for someone to die
Whose name is as bitter as the soil
They handle. In clear pools
In the furrows they watch themselves grow old
To the terrible accompaniment of the song
Of the blackbird, that promises them love.


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

‘Top left an angel’ by R.S. Thomas

 Top left an angel
hovering. Top right the attendance
of a star. From both
bottom corners devils
look up, relishing
in prospect a divine
meal. How old at the centre
the child's face gazing
into love's too human
face, like one prepared
for it to have its way
and continue smiling?



By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint 2. Incarnation (1990)

‘The Nativity? No’ by R.S. Thomas

Text above the poem in the book
 The Nativity? No.
Something has gone wrong.
There is a hole in the stable
acid rain drips through
onto an absence. Beauty
is hoisted upside down.
The truth is Pilate not
lingering for an answer.
The angels are prostrate
'beaten into the clay'
as Yeats thundered. Only Satan beams down,
poisoning with fertilisers
the place where the child
lay, harrowing the ground
for the drumming of the machine-
gun tears of the rich that are
seed of the next war.


By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint (1990) 2. Incarnation