Guest Post: Stephen Murphy featuring R.S. Thomas

I have known poetry longer than I have known language. I was born into it. In those early summers, still in my mother’s arms in Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal, the ocean recited its rhythmic verses and they have stayed ingrained in my idea of sentience since. My childhood memories recall the coach-loads of Yeats’ enthusiasts arriving to capture a sense of the place I am blessed to call home; the sweeping beauty of its rustic landscapes, the solitude of its quiet lakes and the collective consciousness of its community. I grew up as a witness to the physical existence of unconditional love. Poetry was everywhere but in the text books, (and the forensic slaughter), of the school curriculum. I was lucky then, I didn’t need it, it was always there once the bell went and reality returned.

When I came to need poetry, I found it in the form of R.S. Thomas. Regarded by many as the greatest religious poet of the 20th century, his militant Welsh nationalism and cantankerous personality belied an ability to define the human condition with an exquisite naked honesty. Whilst serving as a priest in the Church of Wales, his poetry spoke with a voice that saw God not as embodied by man, but instead as the natural world that surrounded him, a world man appeared intent on pushing against in pursuit of his own destructive self-interest. As I came to maturity, it was this voice that provided solace in a time when the dream-like reality of my formative years became burdened by a city’s people who appeared oblivious to that collective consciousness.

It is, however, not as such his religious poetry that I wish to share here, but instead a poem that encapsulates his ability to create beauty from the bleak. In ‘Almost’, the struggle of man to find his place in the void of unknowing is consistently haunting. I see it both as a reflection of the darkness that lives within us all, and as a greater euphemism that the conflicts of this world are borne not of nurture, but nature. That love still burns as a singularity, when all else is nothing, betrays a tenderness to Thomas not often accredited to his character.

Was here and was one person
and was not.
Knew hunger and its excess
and was too full for words.
Had he a hand in himself?
He had two that were not his;
With one he would build
With the other he would tear down.
Over his shoulder
he saw fear, on the horizon
its likeness. A woman paused
for him on her way
nowhere and together they
made in the great darkness the
small fire that is life’s decoy.


About Charlotte Morgan Nwokenna

Editor and Public Relations Officer
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