Please sign in to post.

Welsh poet Ronald Stuart Thomas also bleak, not as romantic, anniversary

March 29th is the birthday of Ronald Stuart Thomas, published as R.S. Thomas, (1913 Cardiff, Wales).

He was an only child, and his father was in the merchant navy, so the small family moved from seaside town to seaside town until Huw eventually got a steady job with a ferry company that ran between Wales and Ireland and they were able to settle in one place. The Thomas household was an English-speaking one and Ronald didn’t learn to speak Welsh until he was 30, which troubled him because he regretted not being fluent enough to compose poetry in what should have been his native tongue.

He entered the Anglican priesthood after he finished school. His first posting was as a curate in Chirk, in northeast Wales, and this is where he met the woman who would be his wife for 51 years, Mildred Eldridge, known as Elsi. She was an artist, and this inspired him to write poetry. They had one son, Gwydion, born in 1945, and lived a simple life in a small cottage with few modern conveniences — largely by Thomas’s choice.

He retired from the clergy in 1978 and became a passionate and outspoken advocate of Welsh nationalism and a harsh critic of the English, whom he viewed as conquerors. He was often just as contemptuous of his countrymen, however — bitter and angry with them for letting their culture slip away. He called them “an impotent people/sick with inbreeding / worrying the carcase of an old song.” He wrote his autobiography — titled Neb, meaning “nobody” — in Welsh.

Nearly all of his work focused on the landscape and people of Wales, usually with a political or religious subtext. His poems are stark and spare, as unforgiving as the Welsh landscape. “Austere” is a word that comes up frequently in reviews. He wrote, “A recurring ideal, I find, is that of simplicity. At times there comes the desire to write with great precision and clarity, words so simple and moving that they bring tears to the eyes.” In poems like “A Marriage,” written on the death of his wife, he succeeds: “We met / under a shower / of bird-notes.” Thomas died in 2000 at the age of 87.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/r-s-thomas?

Posted by
2048 posts

I clicked your link and read up on Mr. Thomas. Interesting to say the least. I am not a big fan of poetry and his didn’t excite me at all. But thank you for the post.

Posted by
1632 posts

And what spots should be be on the lookout for when we find ourselves in Chirk, or north Wales more generally, Emma?
I'd also like to know the culinary specialties, too...

Posted by
1632 posts

thanks for that, emma -- with all that going for it, it's a wonder that RS Thomas wasn't less of a grump.

Posted by
1139 posts

"Well he sounds like a barrel of laughs!" - He looks like one too. He makes Albert Steptoe look and sound like The Laughing Policeman.

I like reading about odd people, even those I've never heard of, and ended up reading a few of his poems. How about this for a brilliant Thomas line: "We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows." But it belongs to the other Thomas, the brilliant one.

Posted by
4767 posts

I have stayed in Chirk. It’s a good base for touring the black and white villages (old houses) of Shropshire, plus in addition to what Emma has mentioned, there are some good National Trust properties nearby. Plus it’s about an hour’s drive to Snowdonia National Park and half an hour from Chester.

Posted by
718 posts

Did Emma delete her response, or am I missing something? I can’t see her comment. Maybe she’s somehow blocked me!

Posted by
718 posts

Yes, I miss her too and it would be nice just to establish that she is OK even if she feels she has nothing more to contribute here. So long as it wasn’t something I said that drove her away!

Posted by
1632 posts

Since Emma withdrew I have occasionally taken on the task of championing one of her main peeves -- overgeneralizations (with an 's' though) about 'Europeans' are like this while 'Americans' are like that. Once your ear gets sensitized (or 's') to that habit it starts appearing here on the Forum more than I'd imagined it would :-)

Posted by
1085 posts

Avi, that’s a good legacy to carry on.

ianandjulie, I can’t imagine. You are always such a kind and encouraging presence!