// R. S. Thomas

Another couple of poems today, courtesy of R.S. Thomas, a Welsh poet who writes in moving fashion about love, faith, technology and death. In “Residues” (2002) he wrote that “Poetry is that | which arrives at the intellect | by way of the heart”.

He has also written on what is known as ‘negative theology’, around the idea of God and the absences experienced by His followers in daily life. For example in Via Negativa:

Why no! I never thought other than

That God is that great absence

In our lives, the empty silence

Within, the place where we go

Seeking, not in hope to

Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices

In our knowledge, the darkness

Between stars. His are the echoes

We follow, the footprints he has just

Left. We put our hands in

His side hoping to find

It warm. We look at people

And places as though he had looked

At them too; but miss the reflection.

Pete Greig mentioned R. S. Thomas in passing in his recent (excellent) post God of the Possible, and dwells on Via Negativa at greater length in “God on Mute”. There are obviously limits to negative theology, and it doesn’t wholly stand up in my view, but it’s certainly an interesting perspective from which to come at things.

I also love the reflection on the transcendence of God – and on some level His unknowability – in a poem called The Absence:

It is this great absence

that is like a presence, that compels

me to address it without hope

of a reply. It is a room I enter


from which someone has just

gone, the vestibule for the arrival

of one who has not yet come.

I modernise the anachronism


of my language, but he is no more here

than before. Genes and molecules

have no more power to call

him up than the incense of the Hebrews


at their altars. My equations fail

as my words do. What resource have I

other than the emptiness without him of my whole

being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

You have to love that final stanza. “What resource have I | other than the emptiness without him of my whole | being…”

Well, as the disciples once put it, “where would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”

I have also recently discovered Nigel Slater, and have been enjoying the space to cook properly again. As it drags towards winter, there is something gloriously comforting both about good food and the experience of cooking it. More on that later.

    • joanna
    • October 15th, 2010

    Interesting musings as ever Tom. I too am a Thomas fan, but I’m bemused by the last minute casual crossover to cooking. But praps that’s just the honest blogging of a truly lateral mind? Hope so. J

  1. Fair point, i suppose. I feel like being on holiday is the space to rediscover the things i honestly love. So perhaps it’s that i associate the pleasure of reading poetry with the pleasures of cooking (a similar left-brain action), because i finally have space to do both. Hence Slater slipped in.

    Or then again, maybe i was just thinking about dinner.

  1. October 16th, 2010

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