(Un)Happy birthday, R. S. Thomas (March 29th): three tree poems for Holy Week

by Kim on March 29, 2010

“God, for Thomas, is what is (intermittently) shown in the mind’s attempts at stillness … ‘at the frontier’… There is therefore no possibility of speaking directly of God with any truthfulness. Probing directly for the knowledge of God is like the ‘forbidden’ search for one’s own interiority. It will deliver only emptiness and so frustration, the frustration that engenders the turn to mastery, problem-solving, the violent fancies of technocracy. God happens when we are not looking for God.”
– Rowan Williams

“Men who believe in a self-emptying God can only worship him by sharing his nature… We think of knowledge as power and control. God’s knowledge is then thought of as supreme power and control. The kind of knowledge of God R. S. Thomas wants to show us in his poetry is very different. This knowledge is only possible through a sacrifice, a dying to the self, so that God can come in at the right place.”
– D. Z. Phillips

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill, a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.


It was all arranged:
the virgin with child, the birth
in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill
to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold
it, the scriptures conditioned him
to accept it. Judas went to his work
with his sour kiss; what else
could he do?
A wise old age,
the honours awarded for lasting,
are not for a saviour. He had
to be killed; salvation acquired
by an increased guilt. The tree
with its roots in the mind’s dark,
was divinely planted, the original fork
in existence. There is no meaning in life,
unless men can be found to reject
love. God needs his martyrdom.
The mild eyes stare from the Cross
in perverse triumph. What does he care
that the people’s offering are so small?

Via Crucis

It is a perpetual
coming-to from the dream’s
anaesthetic to be brought
face to face with reality’s
mural, where through gaps
in the traffic we perceive
nature mustering its forces
for a last stand. This
is time’s Appian way,
where the skulls of its victims
are ablaze still: a syphlitic
Schubert, a deranged
Van Gogh; Bruno, and Pascal
cracking at the mind’s
stake, and high above
all on mankind’s tree
the would-be redeemer shrivelling
under the radioactive halo.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }


Sally 03.29.10 at 7:06 am

love those poems


Richard 03.29.10 at 8:11 am

Reading RS Thomas makes me think there might be something in this poetry stuff after all ;)

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