Controversial poet Ronald Stuart Thomas was considered to be one of the leading writers of the twentieth century. This book, in three parts, interprets the development of a major theme over Thomas's twenty-seven volumes, probing particular themes and poems with a meticulous insight. The themes of identity, environment, and deity treated reflect the major preoccupations of his life and work. The book presents a comprehensive examination of these major themes as they occur across Thomas's substantial oeuvre, while providing an expanded frame within which the considerable complexity of Thomas's work can be explored. It suggests that such poetic explorations and revelations of identity provide the prima materia of the poetry and form an underlying foundation to Thomas's poetry viewed as a single body of work. Thomas's treatment of the natural world, in particular the theology of nature mysticism vital to much of his work, is then discussed. The book also looks closely at Thomas's increasing preoccupation with science. It explores his philosophical concern with a scientific register for poetry, his own experimentation with that register, his subtle ambivalence towards applied technology, his ongoing critique of 'the machine', and his view of modern physics. Finally, examining Thomas's 'religious poetry', the book re-focuses on the exact nature of his poetic approach to a 'theology of experience' as reflected in his 'mythic' and 'via negativa' modes. It highlights Thomas's 'reconfiguring' of theology, that is, his insistence on the central validity and importance of individual spiritual experience, both as absence and as presence.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book treats the themes of identity, environment, and deity that reflect the major preoccupations of R. S. Thomas's life and work. It sets out a detailed and comprehensive examination of these major themes as they occur across Thomas's substantial oeuvre. While at the same time of the examination of major themes, the book provides an expanded frame within which the considerable complexity of Thomas's work can be more profitably explored. It argues that underpinning Thomas's oeuvre is a 'project' in autobiography which is rooted in the question of the poet's own elusive identities. The book explores Thomas's treatment of the natural world, in particular the theology of nature mysticism vital to much of his work. It reveals an often-underestimated intellectual breadth and sophistication in Thomas's philosophical grounding and poetic experimentation.
This chapter explores the idea of poetry as autobiography using R. S. Thomas's poem 'This To Do'. 'This To Do' is a good place to start because it falls 'on the cusp', as it were, of Thomas's geographical move and a corresponding intensification of the autobiographical instinct. It is a good start of place also because it says something about what poetry as autobiography is for Thomas. The chapter relies upon Michel de Montaigne's writings in his Essays and on much of the prose work of Seamus Heaney. It suggests specific parallels in the theoretical work of Charles Olson and Wallace Stevens, and in the poetry of Derek Walcott. In addition to these parallels, the author wants also to suggest that Thomas's 'project' in autobiography has much in common with Carl Jung's theories of the subconscious and unconscious as Jung writes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
This chapter considers a detailed investigation of R. S. Thomas's poems as a guide to the crucial aspects of his own project of poetic autobiography. In his autobiography, No-one, R. S. Thomas recounts his reaction to the sight of his shadow falling on the pre-Cambrian rocks at Braich y Pwll on the Llyn peninsula. A no-one with a crown of light about his head is clearly not merely someone, but someone of importance, a glorified someone, a saint or a god. The chapter discusses ideas that comprise the points of departure in a study of Thomas's poetry as autobiography. These points are more particular and subtle elements which can be seen to arise from some foundations of Thomas's project that are discussed.
R. S. Thomas can often be found wrestling in the poems with the paradox of a Christian God of love having created a natural economy based upon cycles of violence and consumption. This is what Alfred Tennyson in In Memoriam refers to as 'Nature, red in tooth and claw'. This chapter highlights and explores this paradox as it emerges in Thomas's work, examining it first in relation to certain statements by Tennyson in his In Memoriam, and then detailing each poet's ultimate response to the problem. It examines closely Thomas's own concern with and depictions of the natural violence in the poems. One of the characteristic of Thomas's poetic engagement with nature concerns what he refers to as 'the problem of killing as part of the economy of the God of love'. The chapter ends by looking briefly at the little-known poem 'Islandmen', from Thomas's 1972 collection Young and Old.
This chapter examines the source and nature of R. S. Thomas's position on science, his path to that position, and, throughout both of these, the rich poetic manifestations of that position. It also examines Thomas's prose-writing as, in some ways, the clearest articulation of that position on science. By turning to these 'prose sources', one can understand more easily the sometimes hidden lines of continuity which thread these often radically forward-looking poems. Ned Thomas's 1992 article for Planet entitled 'R. S. Thomas: The Question about Technology' provides a rare and useful point of departure into the subject of science in Thomas's poetry. The chapter takes up Thomas's early position, as he argues it in the prosework, on the theoretical use of scientific language in poetry, turning to the poems themselves to illustrate his practice of that theory.
This chapter is concerned with looking through that change in vocabulary and into the more exact nature of R. S. Thomas's struggle with the machine and, finally, into his ideas concerning pure science. There are a handful of poems in which, with William Wordsworth, Thomas envisions a possible unity between applied science and poetry. The chapter examines these in detail. To contextualise Thomas's position, many of the 'objections' to applied science are echoed by his Welsh contemporary, the poet David James Jones, most often referred to by his bardic name of Gwenallt. The chapter discusses these objections. It looks briefly at one further implication for Thomas of the machine's destruction of what he sees as a more ancient relationship between humankind and the earth. The chapter closes by examining Thomas's use of irony in the later poems on applied science.
This chapter begins with an examination of the philosophical grounding for R. S. Thomas's 'religious poetry' as found in his 1966 article 'A Frame for Poetry' and in his 1963 'Introduction' to The Penguin Book of Religious Verse. It then examines Thomas's 'mythic' poems by focusing on the 1972 collection H'm. The H'm begins with its opening poem, 'Once', which features all of Thomas's mythic elements. Having examined 'Once', the chapter discusses some of these poems in order to underscore their alternating emphases and conclusions and to encourage a view of Thomas's mythic poems not as static or repetitive but as creating. A sequential comparison of these poems indicates a pattern with regard to Thomas's depiction of deity which goes on to alternate between divine violence and divine compassion. The poem finally ends in a curious synthesis of all of these characteristics.
R. S. Thomas's mythic poems reflect primarily a deistic understanding, that is, they set forth a distant and, for the most part, impersonal creator-God. While Bishop Robinson argues for the 'ground of being' as a move towards a personal God of relationship, Thomas emphasises the phrase as indicating that God is not a 'being' at all. Thomas's poem entitled 'Via Negativa', from the collection H'm, is a good example of this, depicting the sensation of painful absence as itself indicative of divine presence. Thomas's depictions of the via negativa are primarily concerned with the experience of absence rather than with the technique of asceticism. This chapter discusses the root of the paradox out of which the via negativa emerges, and explains the poems 'Shadows', 'Adjustments' and 'The Absence', all from Frequencies, in order to examine it more closely.