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Identity, environment, and deity

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.

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lines of the poem that such withdrawals, in keeping with the via negativa as a technique of approach, are embraced solely in pursuit of spiritual ‘riches’, a kind of mystical union with the divine. It needs to be emphasised, however, that the actual experience of the divine is not always one of such presence but frequently, rather, of absence. This experience of divinity as absence is rooted in a philosophical logic which asserts that since divinity, by its very nature, must necessarily overflow the created world of the senses, its presence therefore, at least in the

in R. S. Thomas
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pervasive. This examination of individual collections allows one a view into the most concentrated treatment and development of such themes by Thomas, as well as a deeper grasp of the character of the individual volumes, each of them significant milestones in the oeuvre as a whole. My chief purpose in these final chapters is to highlight and explore what might be called 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. That insistence radically expands

in R. S. Thomas
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emergence of applied science is an extension of the first. He suggests that humankind’s apprehension of its spiritual identity and source is most possible, most probable, within the context of the natural world as ongoing revelation. According to this position, humanity comes close to requiring nature for a true experience of self, as well as for a true experience of deity. The breaking of intimacy between humanity and nature which technology represents for the poet thus becomes both self-alienating and God-alienating, precluding a sense of integration and purpose whose

in R. S. Thomas

1 Thomas Docherty Aesthetic education and the demise of experience The philistine is intolerant.1 love naturally hates old age and keeps his distance from it 2 In 1913, Walter Benjamin was a central figure alongside his teacher, Gustav Wyneken, in the ‘German Youth Movement’, agitating for substantial reforms in the German educational system and, beyond that, in German society. He placed one of his first serious publications, an essay entitled ‘Experience’, in Der Anfang, the magazine of the movement, as a contribution to the debates. In this essay, he points

in The new aestheticism
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The natural world

places like these in heaven, then he didn’t want to go there. (100) Nature mysticism is, however, a variation, some might say corruption, of ‘simple’ or ‘pure’ mysticism, which alleges a personal experience of divinity unmediated by the physical senses. ‘Pure mysticism’ describes a spiritual encounter in which the outer world of the senses no longer informs the inner experience of the mind/soul, but, rather, gives way to, or is suspended before, the more powerful dimensions of pure spirit. While pure mysticism precedes and is in no way restricted to Christianity

in R. S. Thomas
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growing insignificance of individual efforts within the apparatus of war. Experience of the conflict resulted in a ‘winter of the spirit’ for many. This mental climate was publicly pointed out and debated within various periodicals during the war itself. In a spiritually heightened review in the Nation of Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson’s The Chance Before Us in 1917, the reviewer had warned that war had a detrimental effect upon the spirit as well as the body. According to the review, the conflict had imparted, ‘a kind of hardness to human nature. It accepts suffering

in A war of individuals
International man of stories

:16 pm 172 Rohinton Mistry of that documentary realism sometimes seen as symptomatic of the author’s writing. It also uses a variety of literary tropes and discourses as it weaves its narrative fabric, creating a quilt which sustains and supports both characters and readers as they experience the giddy fluctuations of a menacing, topsy-turvy world. Even in the ostensibly more traditional Family Matters, similar issues of corruption versus integrity are explored. Here, notions of the multiple and sometimes conflicting demands of duty are set alongside filial loyalty

in Rohinton Mistry

to the search for the lost self a wider spiritual dimension which, as we shall see, becomes important in the later poems. Second, we learn in the final stanza of the poem that the pen with which the letter is written is dipped ‘in black ink of the heart’s well’. But while we are led to assume that the narrator has composed the letter himself, we find, in the concluding lines, that it is the hand that ‘has written / To the many voices’ quiet dictation’. Here again are the simultaneous intimacy and distance which the poet experiences in relation to the inner self

in R. S. Thomas
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of experience’ as reflected in his ‘mythic’ and ‘via negativa’ modes. It is also my aim to highlight, again, the considerable intellectual breadth and sophistication of Thomas’s thought and work in this regard. In addition to this expansion and re-focusing, however, I will argue, in concluding Chapter 7, for a movement in the general emphasis of Thomas’s later ‘religious poetry’ away from the predominating experience of spiritual absence, fragmentation, and despair, towards, increasingly, apprehensions of presence, unity, and hope. I will suggest in the final

in R. S. Thomas