R. S. Thomas

Damian Walford Davies

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
R. S. Thomas

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literary Studies (British and Irish)



R. S. Thomas is acknowledged as Wales’s most distinguished anglophone poet of the second half of the 20th century. He is also recognized as one of the century’s most challenging religious poets, who explored the very limits of faith and doubt in a world of technological advancement and global capitalism. From the late 1970s—by which time he had developed a pared-down (anti-) lyricism that distinguished him from that other Thomas, Dylan—he became an icon, testing (and teasing) his nation by reflecting its contradictions back to itself. Born in Cardiff and raised in Holyhead, Anglesey, he experienced a bourgeois, anglicized upbringing that denied him the Welsh language. He spent his life seeking to repair what he saw as a cultural lack. As a young curate of the Anglican Church in Wales, Thomas married the gifted artist Mildred E. Eldridge in 1940; the complex dynamics of their symbiotic relationship is a major foundation of the poetry. In 1942 Thomas became rector of Manafon, Montgomeryshire, where he set about learning Welsh. It was here that he established the distinctive pitch of his lyric voice in poems dealing with his priestly responsibilities, the dark interiorities of his “frontierland” parishioners, the “hyphenization” of his own identity, and—through the celebrated persona of the hill farmer, Iago Prytherch—his own spiritual and social preconceptions. His trajectory westward, which had the logic of a cultural and metaphysical quest, began in 1954 with a move to Eglwys-fach, Cardiganshire. It was here that he extended his dissection of rural Wales into a strident interrogation of what he regarded as his nation’s chronic flaws. In 1967 he became vicar of the Welsh-speaking parish of Aberdaron, at the tip of the Llŷn peninsula. Furiously contemporary in his engagement with both theoretical science and technology, Thomas now pushed his project into post-Christian territory. In metaphysical poetry of intense drama and speculation, he wrestled with a defiantly absent god. After retiring in 1978, he produced innovative examinations of, and metacommentaries on, the self in Welsh prose and English poetry whose prime resources are dramatic counterpointing, irony, and dialectic. Following his wife’s death in 1991, he produced a body of diaphanous elegies. A recipient of numerous awards, Thomas was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. The career is thoughtfully represented in the Selected Poems published in 2003; the choices are the poet’s own. The achievement of the final decade is most fruitfully encountered in his Collected Later Poems, 1988–2000 (2004).

Article.  8535 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »