Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

"Love's Depths": R. S. Thomas's Poems to His Wife

Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

"Love's Depths": R. S. Thomas's Poems to His Wife

Article excerpt

LATE in his period as curate at St. Mary's Church, Chirk, his first clerical appointment (1936-40), R. S. Thomas collected together the typescripts of the poems he had been writing up to that date as Spindrift: Poems & Prose Poems. (1) Whether Thomas ever sent the fifty-seven-page collection to a publisher is unclear; the poems themselves are very much apprentice pieces, not much developed technically from the poems he had been writing as a student at university in Bangor. Born of the long walks he took in nearby Dyffryn Ceiriog, the poems and "prose poems" are without exception lyrical evocations of the natural world, suffused with the unfocused romantic longings of the narrating voice, who wanders alone (almost every poem contains a first-person pronoun), often at evening or at dusk: "... the mystic hour, / When whitely shone the unknown flower, / and darkling wings had swept away / the last pale streamers of the day ..." ("Strumblegilfin"); "In the strange stillness of that hour / Between day and night, / There blooms a flower, / Tremulous with the light / Of the first star ..." ("The Immortal Hour"). Inevitably, such lyrical sentiment often topples into sentimentality: "Beauty was born when a little wave / Lost himself in a dark sea cave, / And there in the silence his cries awoke / The voices of the numerous long-lost folk" ("Beauty"). In his autobiography Neb, Thomas sees these "tender, innocent lyrics" as being in the manner of the Georgians, "the background to his reading among the poets," especially Edward Thomas (Autobiographies 44-5). Unsurprisingly, these poems rarely achieve the precision of Edward Thomas, and are indebted more to the lesser Georgians, as well as to Thomas's reading of the Romantics, especially Keats: "But yester eve I found a maid at rest, / Beside a half reaped field of corn reclined, / Pale, listless violets drooping on her breast ..." ("Sonnet"). The poetic register of these poems is both derivative and dated ("behold," "o'er," "thou art," "cometh"). It is more than evident that even by the late 1930s, as the poet himself admits, "The more 'modern' English poets, such as Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, Pound, and Eliot had not yet broken through to his inner world to shatter the unreal dreams that dwelled there" (Autobiographies 45).

Given the occasional existence of such imaginary "maids" in Spindrift, one must approach the poem simply entitled "Sonnet" with some caution:

   I never thought in this poor world to find
   Another who had loved the things I love,
   The wind, the trees, the cloud-swept sky above;
   One who was beautiful and grave and kind,
   Who struck no discord in my dreaming mind,
   Content to live with silence as a cloak
   About her every thought, or, if she spoke,
   Her gentle voice was music on the wind.
   And then about the ending of a day
   In early Spring, when the soft western breezes
   Had chased the melancholy clouds afar,
   As up a little hill I took my way,
   I found you all alone upon your knees,
   Your face uplifted to the evening star.

The poem shares many of the stylistic characteristics of the other poems in the collection: its formality of structure, the first-person narrator, the rural setting, even, in the sestet, the time of day. But here, however sketchily, the woman is characterized and there is some sense of a relationship between her and the narrator, a relationship of shared interests and attitudes. We note, too, that the woman is "Content to live with silence as a cloak"; it is a characteristic to which we shall return, for it is possible that this is the young poet's first poem to the woman who was to become his wife.

R. S. Thomas met Mildred Elsie Eldridge, who became known in her married years as "Elsi," at Chirk. She was "lodging fairly close by" he says, rather vaguely, in Neb (Autobiographies 43); in fact they had rooms in the same house, "Bryn Coed" (the address which appears on the title page of Spindrift) (Rogers 105). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.