But the silence in the mind
But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
we launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.
It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?
by R.S. Thomas, from the collection Counterpoint, 1990
image from http://wildlifesnaps.com/search_results.php?species_common=Martin,+House
Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford, Ireland. September 20th, 2009.
A poem by R.S. Thomas:
Summer is here.
Once more the house has its
Spray of martins, Proust’s fountain
Of small birds, whose light shadows
Come and go in the sunshine
Of the lawn as thoughts do
In the mind. Watching them fly
Is my business, not as a man vowed
To science, who counts their returns
To the rafters, or sifts their droppings
For facts, recording the wave-length
Of their screaming; my method is so
To have them about myself
Through the hours of this brief
Season and to fill with their
Movement, that it is I they build
In and bring up their young
To return to after the bitter
Migrations, knowing the site
Inviolate through its outward changes.
R.S. Thomas, included in R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems: 1945-1990
The reputation of the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), already strong in his own lifetime, has been rising since. He was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964, and in 1996 the prestigious Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature and the Horst Bienek Prize for Poetry. He is a major poet of the twentieth century, and one of the finest religious poets in the English language.
I am not an expert on Thomas, but I have read the biography by Byron Rogers (The Man Who Went Into the West: The Life of R.S.Thomas, Aurum Press Ltd), I have read a lot of the poems, and I have read various essays on the man and his work. My chief claim to some sort of right to comment is that I feel a lot of affinity for what is going on in his poetry. Seamus Heaney once remarked that “the only reliable source” for teaching about a given poem was “the experience of having felt the poem come home, memorably and irrefutably”. 
The New Mariner
In the silence
that is his chosen medium
of communication and telling
others about it
in words. Is there no way
not to be the sport
of reason? For me now
there is only the God-space
into which I send out
my probes. I had looked forward
to old age as a time
of quietness, a time to draw
my horizons about me,
to watch memories ripening
in the sunlight of a walled garden.
But there is the void
over my head and the distance
within that the tireless signals
come from. An astronaut
on impossible journeys
to the far side of the self
I return with the messages
I cannot decipher, garrulous
about them, worrying the ear
of the passer-by, hot on his way
to the marriage of plain fact with plain fact.
This poem by R. S. Thomas was originally published in Between Here and Now (1981) and can be found in Collected Poems: 1945-1990, R. S. Thomas.