More than once I have written about the magical experience of finding myself among goldcrests - notably here. So I was especially delighted to find, towards the end of Byron Rogers' life of R.S. Thomas (I've just finished it - what a book!), that the poet too had this experience, and wrote of it (in a 1984 anthology, Britain: A World By Itself) far better than I ever could. On an October day, Thomas had come upon an isolated clump of bare trees, walking towards it so quietly that his approach had gone unnoticed. Stepping inside, he had, it seems, 'the one mystical experience of his life'...
'It was alive with goldcrests,' he writes. 'The air purred with their small wings. To look up was to see the twigs re-leafed with their small bodies. Everywhere their needle-sharp cries stitched at the silence. Was I invisible? Their seed-bright eyes regarded me from three feet off. Had I put forth an arm, they might have perched on it. I became a tree, part of that bare spinney where silently the light was splintered, and for a timeless moment the birds thronged me, filigreeing me with shadow, moving to an immemorial rhythm on their way south.
Then suddenly they were gone, leaving other realities to return: the rustle of the making tide, the tick of the moisture, the blinking of the pool's eye as the air flicked it, and lastly myself. Where had I been? Who was I? What did it all mean? When it was happening, I was not. Now that the birds had gone, here I was once again...'
That is poet's prose, and when Thomas sticks to description it is quite wonderfully evocative - the purring air, the twigs re-leafed, those needle-sharp cries (and beaks), the seed-bright eyes, the tick of the moisture - but the more he takes off into speculation about the meaning of the experience (citing Coleridge on 'the primary Imagination' and 'the infinite I AM'), the less convincing he becomes. Never mind - he had his taste of eternity in that clump of trees, and no one has ever written more vividly about that heart-lifting experience of being among goldcrests.