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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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chapter1 28/1/05 1:21 pm Page 13 1 Poetry as autobiography Introduction ‘This To Do’ is a frequently overlooked poem in R. S. Thomas’s 1966 collection Pieta. Although appearing twenty years into Thomas’s career as a published poet, Pieta effectively ends the early periods of work at Manafon (1942–54) and Eglwysfach (1954–67) and simultaneously initiates the succeeding periods at Aberdaron (1967–78) and Rhiw (1978–94) on the Llyn peninsula in north Wales. The collection falls not only within a geographical transition for the poet but at a major thematic cross

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The scientific world

never meet, and by so doing laid the foundations for the geometry named after him, as well as for much of Einstein’s later work (1993: 73–4). Finally, compartmentalisation may, ultimately, invalidate the struggle towards unity and wholeness, intellectual, spiritual, even physical, which Thomas seems to suggest is basic to human existence and the search for meaning. What we can see in the poetry is an ongoing preoccupation with the dangers of such compartmentalisation and a steady pressure towards a reintegration of thought corresponding exactly to these points. The

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chapter6 28/1/05 1:33 pm Page 147 6 Theologies and beyond Introduction 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. Chapter 7 examines Thomas’s ‘via negativa’ and ‘via affirmativa’ poems by concentrating on the collections Frequencies (1978) and Destinations (1985), in which these ‘types’ are most

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: ‘Man is a dream about a shadow. But when some splendour falls upon him from God, a glory comes to him and his life is sweet.’ (78) The quotation briefly highlights, in a three-part progression, the project of the self which, for R. S. Thomas, is integral to the project of poetry. In its first phase the experience raises the recurring question of identity for the poet: ‘Who am I?’ Immediately following that question, in phase two of the progression, comes the equally emphatic and recurring answer to the question: ‘No-one’. Phase three begins the new paragraph and

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, Thomas does view such innocence as under threat in these early collections. His confidence in the safety of an older way of life is often countered by an awareness of the new threat of nuclear destruction posed by the technological developments of science. For example, in the 1958 collection Poetry for Supper Thomas writes of ‘the new physics’ terrible threat / To the world’s axle’ (37). And, in a more ironic imagining of a similar sentiment, which we shall look at more closely later, he writes, in the poem ‘The Garden’, from The Bread of Truth (1963): Out of the soil

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A tradition of indirection

This book examines the satirical poetry of Edmund Spenser and argues for his importance as a model and influence for younger poets writing satires in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The book focuses on reading satirical texts of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in relation to one another, with specific attention to the role that Edmund Spenser plays in that literary subsystem. The book connects key Spenserian texts in The Shepheardes Calender and the Complaints volume with poems by a range of authors in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, including Joseph Hall, Thomas Nashe, Tailboys Dymoke, Thomas Middleton, and George Wither to advance the thesis that Spenser was seen by his contemporaries as highly relevant to satire in Elizabethan England. For scholars of satire, the book offers a fuller discussion and theorization of the type of satire that Spenser wrote, “indirect satire,” than has been provided elsewhere. A theory of indirect satire benefits not just Spenser studies, but satire studies as well. For scholars of English Renaissance satire in particular, who have tended to focus on the formal verse satires of the 1590s to the exclusion of attention to more indirect forms such as Spenser’s, this book is a corrective, an invitation to recognize the importance of a style of satire that has received little attention.

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Cultural identity and change in the Atlantic archipelago

The concept of 'margins' denotes geographical, economic, demographic, cultural and political positioning in relation to a perceived centre. This book aims to question the term 'marginal' itself, to hear the voices talking 'across' borders and not only to or through an English centre. The first part of the book examines debates on the political and poetic choice of language, drawing attention to significant differences between the Irish and Scottish strategies. It includes a discussion of the complicated dynamic of woman and nation by Aileen Christianson, which explores the work of twentieth-century Scottish and Irish women writers. The book also explores masculinities in both English and Scottish writing from Berthold Schoene, which deploys sexual difference as a means of testing postcolonial theorizing. A different perspective on the notion of marginality is offered by addressing 'Englishness' in relation to 'migrant' writing in prose concerned with India and England after Independence. The second part of the book focuses on a wide range of new poetry to question simplified margin/centre relations. It discusses a historicising perspective on the work of cultural studies and its responses to the relationship between ethnicity and second-generation Irish musicians from Sean Campbell. The comparison of contemporary Irish and Scottish fiction which identifies similarities and differences in recent developments is also considered. In each instance the writers take on the task of examining and assessing points of connection and diversity across a particular body of work, while moving away from contrasts which focus on an English 'norm'.

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a whole, forms a highly wrought mosaic. In its radical adherence to the truth of experienced life, both exterior and interior, it depicts an intricate, intimate, and ultimately inextricable reciprocity and tension across these broader categories. Finally, in each of the ‘categories’ examined, I have argued that Thomas’s poetry is uniquely expansive in its effect, broadening each category intellectually while simultaneously relating all three to one another, making the oeuvre an organic whole with a life greater than the sum of its parts. This effect is what Thomas

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The ‘outside’ in poetry in the 1980s and 1990s

6 Paper margins: the ‘outside’ in poetry in the 1980s and 1990s LINDEN PEACH Poetry emanating from what a few decades ago would have been deemed ‘the margins’ has become the major focus of publishing houses, journals and criticism, the latter evident in two recent collections of essays: Poetry in the British Isles: Non-Metropolitan Perspectives (Ludwig and Fietz 1995) and Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism (Acheson and Huk 1996). I say ‘were deemed’ because, as Terry Eagleton has observed, the marginal has become ‘somehow central’ (1989

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