Over at the lovely Book Jotter blog, Paula is hosting her second annual Wales Readathon event during the month of March; known as Dewithon, it promises much of interest and so far I’ve read some fabulous posts, with loads of ideas for more reading…. (as if I needed any more of those!)

Wales is a country for which I have a great love; when the children were younger we holidayed in North Wales every year, and I love the landscape, the people and the country. Some of my favourite musicians are also Welsh (John Cale, Manic Street Preachers) and of course the literature is outstanding. I probably won’t have time to read anything Welsh of substance this month so instead I thought I would share some thoughts about one of my favourite Welsh poets – R.S. Thomas.

Thomas was a complex man; a Welshman brought up speaking English, he wrote in that language but learned his native language at a later date and I’ve seen him talking eloquently in it with a somewhat cultured English accent. Intensely private, he was an Anglican Priest who took his calling seriously, balancing it with his work as a poet. After a number of ministries he retired in 1978 from his role as vicar of St Hywyn’s Church in Aberdaron, tucked away at the end of the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales and lived in a tiny and primitive cottage in Y Rhiw, where he continued with his writing and political activism until his death in 2000.

Many of Thomas’s early works deal with the Welsh landscape and labourer; later writings took a more political turn, rueing the anglicisation of Wales and supporting Welsh Nationalism. His late poems are particularly powerful, often bitter, and I imagine he may well not have been an easy man to get on with…

I feel a strong connection to Thomas’s verse, and also with his location; because it was on the Llŷn Peninsula we would holiday, and in fact we even managed to get a look at the cottage from a distance on one visit. It overlooks the dramatic bay of Hell’s Mouth and I can imagine it would have been a most striking location during extreme weather.

These are my Thomas books; a good number of which I picked up on visits to North Wales. I read him avidly back in the day, but it’s a while since I’ve picked up one of his books. A particularly moving poem is a favourite of mine, however, and I wanted to share it here:

A Marriage

We met
        under a shower
of bird-notes.
        Fifty years passed,
love’s moment
        in a world in
servitude to time.
       She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
      closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
      ‘Come,’ said death,
choosing her as his
      partner for
the last dance, And she,
      who in life
had done everything
      with a bird’s grace,
opened her bill now
     for the shedding
of one sigh no
     heavier than a feather.

Thomas was married to Mildred Eldridge, an artist whom he called Elsi, and the poem was written after her death in 1991. Elsi isn’t remembered enough in my view; she produced murals and book illustrations, amongst other works, and what I’ve seen is lovely. I sense that her career may have had to take second fiddle to that of her husband (though her Wikipedia page lists some interesting activity), and as I recall he wrote mostly very obliquely about her (and Gwydion, the son they had). Nevertheless, this poem is quite beautiful, one of the most moving things I’ve ever read. The imagery is telling, too, as the only example of Elsi’s work I have is in the form of an old Medici greetings card (she often used to illustrate for them I believe):

Elsi specialised in birds, you see, apparently produced multitudes of artworks for nature in later life deep in the Welsh countryside. So the metaphors in this beautiful poem are very apt.

There’s much online about Thomas, and pleasingly more information now about his wife. Gwydion sadly passed away in 2016, though his children are a link to the poetic past of their grandfather. Thomas’s poetry is not always easy, but it’s often a powerful and emotional read; I recommend you search it out to discover the voice of a different Welsh poet called Thomas! 😀