Who is R.S.Thomas?

Ronald Stuart Thomas is one of the best Welsh poets writing in English in 20th Century.
He was also a priest in the Church in Wales. Although his first language was English, he learnt to speak Welsh through long struggle. He spoke daily, preached sermons and left some proses, both in English and Welsh.
He lived in Wales, wrote poetry about Wales and God, and published over 20 books of poetry.
When he died in 2000, he was questing his faith and exploring God in this modern world.
Many of the words said at his death described him as the most outstanding Welsh poet of the 20th century.

Like Yeats, Thomas had produced his most powerful work in his old age. No Truce with the Furies reminds me of Beethoven's last quartets in its fearless exploration of the mysteries of life and death.

He ranks with the greatest poets of the century and has been called the major one now writing in English. His stature is that of Yeats and Eliot.
Western Mail

The Life

Born in Cardiff, Wales, on 29 March 1913, R.S. Thomas was raised in various places including Liverpool and London due to his father's occupation as a sailor. His family moved from port to port, following his father. Finally his family settled in Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, immediately before Christmas in 1918. He was raised and educated in English there. He had spent his boyhood mostly with his mother while his father was away at sea, until he moved to Bangor by himself in order to enter the University of Wales.

After graduating in Classics at the University, in October, 1935, he entered St. Michael's College for theological training. Just after passing the first part of the General Ordination Examination, which consisted of two parts, he was ordained as a curate of Chirk in the Church of Wales in October, 1936. There he met a recognized artist named Elsi and married her in 1940.

Because the vicar of Chirk did not want a married curate, he and his wife moved to Hanmer, Maelor Saesneg, where he set about learning Welsh seriously.

In 1942 he moved to Manafon, Wales with his wife and served as a rector. Until he retired on Easter 1978 he also served in Eglwys-fach and Aberdaron.

Since his first collection of poetry, The Stones of the Field, appeared in 1946, he published more than 20 books of poetry as well as several books of prose. He won several awards, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964. Neb, his first book of prose, written in Welsh, was published in 1985.

After he retired from the Church in Wales, he and his wife moved to a small stone cottage called Sarn-y-Plas near Plas-yn-Rhiw estate in Y Rhiw. His first wife died there in 1991.

He moved to Llanfairynghornwy, Camel Head, Anglesey in 1994 and married his second wife, Elisabeth (Betty), in 1996. In this year he won The Lifetime Achievement Award for Poetry and the Horst Bienek Prize for Poetry. He was also nominated for the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature.

In July 2000 he was awarded a medal by the London based Honourable Society of the Cymrodorion for his "outstanding contribution to Welsh life." He was intervied by BBC Wales for it.

His heart troubl got worse and he was sent to a hospital in Pentrefelin in September, 2000. After two weeks he died on 25 September 2000 at the age of 87.

Now he lies under a tomb in St. John's Church in Porthmadog.

The last collection, Residues, was published posthumously in 2002.

The Poetry

Although R.S.Thomas left much beautiful and moving poetry, tension always existed in his poetry. In fact, much of them were created from this tension. It even made his poetry splendid and impressive.

His early themes for the poetry were Wales, the Welsh hill country and farmers rooted in soil. While he sung their poignancy on the Welsh wasted hills lyrically, he gradually began to emphasize his own Welshness in English. As well, he also came to have a desire to write his poems in Welsh in order to prove himself that he was a true Welsh man, yet it was not available. Between the gap, tension was created.

The collection entitled H'm(1972) marked a change of Thomas's work. Reaching Aberdaron and surrounded with the Welsh-speaking kind villagers, he did not need to go on his early themes but started to muse about the dark or absent God.

R.S.Thomas in his life and in his poetry had a hunger for the living God. This God may have been elusive, and believing in Him not always easy, but the sense of attempting to form a relationship with the God who transcends us and all our thoughts about him is a constant theme in his poetry.
(Barry Morgan, Strangely Orthodox - R.S.Thomas and His Poetry of Faith, (Gomer, 2006), p.58-59)

He asked, "Is this where God hides/ From my searching?" in 'In Church,' the very last poem of Pieta (1966), and now this "question" became his infinite theme. The more he pondered and looked for His presence, the more he felt new tension between Him and the modern technology. Then, his early musical poems were lost and he silently broke up the lines in his verses. He rejected rich and colourful words. The poetry became silent and hard as bones.

Thus unresolved tension remains both in his thoughts and in his poetry, however, because of it, his poetry shines more splendidly.

Yoshifumi Nagata

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R.S.Thomas, priest and poet
Text and photos (otherwise noticed)
by Yoshifum! Nagata

(c)&(p)Yoshifum! Nagata

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