For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Sunday, 8 June 2014

A Blackbird Singing (8)

I've already featured Dylan Thomas and Edward Thomas in this sequence, so I thought I'd now include a poem by RS Thomas. A trio of Thomases! RS is a very fine poet, I believe. His poems can be stark and brooding, and harsh as a Welsh mountain landscape, but they can also be shafted with light (I urge you to listen to Thomas himself reading The Bright Field). He's honest (at times uncomfortably so) about human nature, and about his religious doubts (despite being an Anglican priest). His god is a god who is always just out of reach, forever exiting when Thomas enters. All that remains are obscure signs and traces, never the actual presence. His earlier poems about Welsh farmers and Welsh farming life display a bleak realism and melancholy, yet containing flashes of redemption; his later poems are more metaphysical, alternating between an anguished and a resigned spirituality. The following poem fits in well with the birdsong theme developed in this series.

A Blackbird Singing

It seems wrong that out of this bird,
Black, bold, a suggestion of dark 
Places about it, there yet should come
Such rich music, as though the notes'
Ore were changed to a rare metal
At one touch of that bright bill.

You have heard it often, alone at your desk
In a green April, your mind drawn
Away from its work by sweet disturbance
Of the mild evening outside your room.

A slow singer, but loading each phrase
With history's overtones, love, joy
And grief learned by his dark tribe
In other orchards and passed on
Instinctively as they are now,
But fresh always with new tears.

RS THOMAS

5 comments:

George said...

Love this poem, though I haven't read it before. I especially like the deeper existential implications of love and joy mixed with grief, freshness mixed with tears.

The Weaver of Grass said...

One of my favourite poets Robert - such a dour man and yet sometimes, in some of his poems, such sweetness. He had this love/hate relationship with the Welsh people (Iago Prytherc) and yet about nature and wildlife he wrote with such passion.

am said...

"A Blackbird Singing" is now a favorite poem of mine, too.

Hadn't known of R.S. Thomas until learning of him through your blog some time ago. Would like to read more of his poetry. Disappointed to discover that neither our public library nor our local independent bookstore have any collections of his poetry. I've ordered Collected Poems: 1945-1990 R.S.Thomas via AbeBooks.

"... Such rich music ..."

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, it's a beautiful poem, George.

Pat — yes, I recall that in his sermons he used to berate his congregation for buying washing machines and fridges and other artefacts of the modern world. And re. wildlife, he was a passionate birdwatcher.

That's the edition of his poems I have myself, Am. I think you'll enjoy many of the poems in there, though some are a little bleak and uncompromising. I particularly like his poem 'Pilgrimages' about Bardsey Island and 'A Marriage' about his wife.

He could be quite an eccentric, rather difficult and unsociable man, I think. I'll never forget a friend who lived in that part of Wales telling me how he'd seen Thomas and his wife in the town supermarket. Their trolley contained only bottle upon bottle of whisky and tub upon tub of Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

sackerson said...

If I had to grab one book of poetry from a heap and it was achoice between RS Thomas and Rilke, I'd probably grab RS Thomas.

I've known his poetry since I was small and like all things that make a deep positive impression when we're young, I find it hard to argue with.

It helps, too, that I've spent a lot of time in "RS Thomas country".