Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913 - 2000), Vicar and Poet
Today, 26 September 2000, we heard that the grand old man of Welsh literature in English was no more. Born in Cardiff, a year before Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, he was the son of a merchant seaman. Because of the mobility associated with his father’s job he went with his family to north Wales in 1918. Educated at the University College of Wales, Bangor and at St. Michael’s Church in Wales (Anglican) Theological College in Cardiff, he was appointed Rector of a rural parish in Welsh-speaking Caernarvonshire in 1942. It was here that he began to study and eventually master the Welsh language in which he was to become a distinguished preacher, lecturer and essayist.It is, however, as the author of some of the finest poetry in English ever written in Wales that he has won lasting fame.
His poems, noted for their studied, careful craftsmanship, deal with themes such as personal identity in a bilingual country, the lives of the people of rural Wales and the tensions between science, religion, knowledge and faith that troubled their author throughout his long life.
How often he went on this journey, think of it, think of it:
The metrical train, the monosyllabic sea,
The listening hilltops, aloof and resentful of strangers.
Who would have refrained from addressing him here, not discerning
The embryonic poem still coiled in the ivory skull?
Boredom or closeness of age might have prompted, his learning
Concealed by his tweed and the azure, ecstatic tie;
But who would have sensed the disdain of his slow reply
Of polite acquiescence in their talk of the beautiful?
Who would have guessed the futility even of praising
Mountain and marsh and the delicate, flickering tree
To one long impervious and cold to the outward scene,
Heedless of nature’s baubles, lost in the amazing And labyrinth paths of his own impenetrable mind?
But something in the hair’s fine silver, the breadth of brow,
Had kept me dumb, too shy of his scornful anger
To presume to pierce the dark, inscrutable glasses,
His first defence against a material world.
Yet alone with him in the indifferent compartment, hurled
Between the waves’ white audience, the earth’s dim screen,
In mutual silence closer than lover knit
I had known reality dwindle, the dream begin.
From The Stones of the Field (1946)
The gyres revolve;
man comes to the confrontation
with his terror, with the imperative
of choice. Other compulsions are shown
for what they were. Time rinses its eyes
clean. From tyranny of the hand
we are delivered to the exigencies
of freedom, to the acknowledgement
by the unlimited of its limitations.
What power shall minister to us
at the closure of the century,
of the millennia? The god,
who was Janus-faced, is eclipsed
totally by our planet, by the shadow
cast on him by contemporary
mind. Shall we continue worshipping
that mind for its halo,
its light the mirage of its radiation?