Saturday, October 16, 2010

R. S. Thomas: "I have heard the still, small voice and it is that of bacteria demolishing my cosmos."

If the devil offers a few lectures on Keats I'll probably go to Hell. As it was, I went to a Monday-night series at a church.

A few years ago, a British Anglican priest in the Village had proposed a four-week series on R. S. Thomas and George Herbert, two Anglican priests, both Welch, both poets. I was walking by the church, saw the glowing "poets" and jotted the schedule.  That was the first I'd heard of R. S. Thomas, who died in 2000. Herbert in 1633 [click to read 11/18/10 posting on Herbert].

As I did yesterday with Stevie Smith, I resist detailing my interest but simply present a poem. Thomas can surprise with a sometimes corrosive voice, though not here. Of course thresholds are enormously exciting, being containers for hope, fear, speculation; for safety, expectant waiting; for change, passage.

Thomas was my "find." I offer you one of his poems.


I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.

I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on

this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,

what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What

to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?

R. S. Thomas

For a biography and more poems I direct you to the Poetry Foundation page on R. S. Thomas. I copy/pasted this poem from their Web site to avoid the occasion of a typo.

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