R.S. Thomas (1913–2000)
Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.
R.S. Thomas was born in Cardiff in 1913, the only child of Huw and Margeret. The family settled at Holyhead. He was awarded a bursary in 1932 to study at University College, Bangor, where he read Classics. In 1937 he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in Wales. For twelve years, from 1942-54, Thomas was rector at Manafon. It was at this time that he published his first book of poetry, The Stones of the Field. In 1940 he married Mildred Eldridge, an English artist, they were to be married until her death in 1991. They had one son.
Thomas' poetry achieved a breakthrough with the publication of his fourth book Song at the Year's Turning which was critically very well received. It opened with a famous introduction by John Betjeman, one of his admirers. His position was also helped by winning the Royal Society of Literature's Heinemann Award.
He learnt the Welsh language, too late in life, he said, to be able to write poetry in it, and the sixties saw him working in a predominantly Welsh speaking community. He wrote two prose works in Welsh, Neb an autobiography and Blwyddyn yn Llyn which translates as 'A Year in Llyn'. In 1964 he won the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. He retired from the church in 1978.
Free from the constraints of the church he was able to become more political and active in campaigns that were important to him. He became a fierce advocate of Welsh Nationalism, although he never supported Plaid Cymru because he believed they did not go far enough in their opposition to England. He espoused a brand of Christian Pacifism, although he did, in principle, believe in the fire-bombing of English holiday cottages. On this subject he said "what is one death against the death of the whole Welsh nation?"
He was also active in wildlife preservation and worked with the RSPB and other Welsh volunteer organisations for the preservation of the Red kite. Typically he resigned his RSPB membership over their plans to introduce non-native kites to Wales.
In 1996 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He lost out to Seamus Heaney. After his death a memorial tribute was held in Westminster Abbey. Seamus Heaney, his friend, read the eulogy. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Stuart_Thomas.
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