The Chapel by R. S. Thomas

A little aside from the main road,

becalmed in a last-century greyness,

there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal

to the tourist to stop his car

and visit it. The traffic goes by,

and the river goes by, and quick shadows

of clouds, too, and the chapel settles

a little deeper into the grass.

 

But here once on an evening like this,

in the darkness that was about

his hearers, a preacher caught fire

and burned steadily before them

with a strange light, so that they saw

the spendour of the barren mountains

about them and sang their amens

fiercely, narrow but saved

in a way that men are not now.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

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Target by R. S. Thomas

I look up at the sky at night

and see the archer, Sagittarius,

with his bow drawn, and realise

man is the arrow speeding,

 

not as some think infinitely

on, but because space is curved,

backwards towards the bowman’s heart

to deal him his unstaunched wound.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

Moorland by R. S. Thomas

It is beautiful and still;

the air rarified

as the interior of a cathedral

 

expecting a presence. It is where, also,

the harrier occurs,

materialising from nothing, snow –

 

soft, but with claws of fire,

quartering the bare earth

for the prey that escapes it;

 

hovering over the incipent

scream, here a moment, then

not here, like my belief in God.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Ears In The Turrets Hear by Dylan Thomas

Ears in the turrets hear

Hands grumble on the door,

Eyes in the gables see

The fingers at the locks.

Shall I unbolt or stay

Alone till the day I die

Unseen by stranger-eyes

In this white house?

Hands, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Beyond this island bound

By a thin sea of flesh

And a bone coast,

The land lies out of sound

And the hills out of mind.

No birds or flying fish

Disturbs this island’s rest.

 

Ears in this island hear

The wind pass like a fire,

Eyes in this island see

Ships anchor off the bay.

Shall I run to the ships

With the wind in my hair,

Or stay till the day I die

And welcome no sailor?

Ships, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Hands grumble on the door,

Ships anchor off the bay,

Rain beats the sand and slates.

Shall I let in the stranger,

Shall I welcome the sailor,

Or stay till the day I die?

 

Hands of the stranger and holds of the ships,

Hold you poison or grapes?

 

by Dylan Thomas


The poem read by the Welsh actor Philip Maddoc:

We Lying By Seasand by Dylan Thomas

We lying by seasand, watching yellow

And the grave sea, mock who deride

Who follow the red rivers, hollow

Alcove of words out of cicada shade,

For in this yellow grave of sand and sea

A calling for colour calls with the wind

That’s grave and gay as grave and sea

Sleeping on either hand.

The lunar silences, the silent tide

Lapping the still canals, the dry tide-master

Ribbed between desert and water storm,

Should cure our ills of the water

With a one-coloured calm;

The heavenly music over the sand

Sounds with the grains as they hurry

Hiding the golden mountains and mansions

Of the grave, gay, seaside land.

Bound by a sovereign strip, we lie,

Watch yellow, wish for wind to blow away

The strata of the shore and drown red rock;

But wishes breed not, neither

Can we fend off rock arrival,

Lie watching yellow until the golden weather

Breaks, O my heart’s blood, like a heart and hill.

 

by Dylan Thomas

The Island by R. S. Thomas

And God said, I will build a church here

And cause this people to worship me,

And afflict them with poverty and sickness

In return for centuries of hard work

And patience. And its walls shall be hard as

Their hearts, and its windows let in the light

Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned

By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,

 

Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes

Grow, and their lips suppurate with

Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth

On my altars, and I will choose the best

Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

 

And that was only on one island.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

Farm Wife by R. S. Thomas

Hers is the clean apron, good for fire

Or lamp to embroider, as we talk slowly

In the long kitchen, while the white dough

Turns to pastry in the great oven,

Sweetly and surely as hay making

In a June meadow; hers are the hands,

Humble with milking, but still now

In her wide lap as though they heard

A quiet music, hers being the voice

That coaxes time back to the shadows

In the room’s corners. O, hers is all

This strong body, the safe island

Where men may come, sons and lovers,

Daring the cold seas of her eyes.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)