Friday, 29 March 2013

A Hundredth Birthday, and a Ninetieth

Over on Anecdotal Evidence, Patrick Kurp notes that today is the centenary of the birth of R.S. Thomas. The Welsh are marking the occasion on quite a scale (largely, one suspects, for nationalistic rather than poetic reasons) and there's a new Uncollected Poems coming out. R.S. himself would no doubt take a dim view of this; he destroyed most of what he wrote and took care to leave as little as possible behind. Last year, in the course of reading Byron Rogers' wonderful biography of R.S., I posted quite often on him (try a search on Nigeness) - mostly on aspects of his extraordinary personality. But on this notable birthday, let's have a poem - also on a birthday theme - and remind ourselves of what a very very good poet he was, whether 'major' or 'minor' - who cares? And this poem also hints at what a very good priest he could be, at least for the poorer and less fortunate of his flock...

Ninetieth Birthday

You go up the long track
That will take a car, but is best walked
On slow foot, noting the lichen
That writes history on the page
Of the grey rock. Trees are about you
At first, but yield to the green bracken,
The nightjar's house: you can hear it spin
On warm evenings; it is still now
In the noonday heat, only the lesser
Voices sound, blue-fly and gnat
And the stream's whisper. As the road climbs,
You will pause for breath and the far sea's
Signal will flash, till you turn again
To the steep track, buttressed with cloud.

And there at the top that old woman,
Born almost a century back
In that stone farm, awaits your coming;
Waits for the news of the lost village
She thinks she knows, a place that exists
In her memory only.
You bring her greeting
And praise for having lasted so long
With time's knife shaving the bone.
Yet no bridge joins her own
World with yours, all you can do
Is lean kindly across the abyss
To hear words that were once wise.

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