I have just ‘come to know’, at least a bit, R.S.Thomas. I had loved his poem ‘Here’ for a long time, which I think is also about coming to know.
I am a man now.
Pass your hand over my brow.
You can feel the place where the brains grow.
I am like a tree,
From my top bough I can see
The footprints that led up to me.
There is blood in my veins
That has run clear of the stain
Contracted in so many loins.
Why, then, are my hands this way
That they will not do as I say?
Does no God hear when I pray?
I have no where to go
The swift satellites show
The clock of my whole being is slow,
It is too late to start
For destinations not of the heart.
I must stay here with my hurt.
This last verse has been on my wall for a long time. It is a timely reminder although time doesn’t pass very slow for me – it seems to rush by. I have just finished reading ‘The Man who went into the West’ by Byron Rogers. It is a wonderful biography of R.S.Thomas – who I had always thought of as being an ascetic poet, scourged by his conflicts and religious beliefs. This book makes him human and approachable and is analytical and precise about his poetic development. A lovely book that I just couldn’t put down. The other exciting thing I found in this book was information about Thomas’s wife, Mildred Elsi Eldridge. Somehow from his poems I never thought of him as having a wife – they are so bleak and bare I imagined him a lonely, ravaged man in his remote parishes. But his wife was amazing.
A wonderful painter whose work I had never even seen or heard of. The inside covers of Roger’s book show parts of the great mural she painted for Oswestry hospital which at the time of writing was stored and not available to view. Now looking her up on line there is a series of photographs of the restored and newly hung mural at the Glyndwr University. Look at them at www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/…mural_mildred_elsie_eldridge_wrexham and wonder. I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind since seeing those first small paintings in the book.
I love the fact that R.S.Thomas in his final years found laughter and lightness in a new relationship after Elsi had died and seems to have allowed the wry humour that Rogers makes clear in his anecdotes to become part of his last bit of life. Elsi became very reclusive, and there is no doubt that R.S. Thomas had the artist’s privilege firmly in his own hands – he seems not to have taken much notice of her paintings although she earned money from them for many years. How difficult it appears to be for two striving creators to live under the same roof, particularly if they are also poor. Someone has to put the food on the table. I feel released into poetic space in the last bit of my life; able to take time and space to address the issues I want to think and write about, time to linger, to dream. Although life still seems busy and demanding at one level – that is also the source and ground for thinking and writing. Runner beans and blackberries making the ground now!
I feel overwhelmed with the double excitement of coming to know – the poet and the painter – and a painter who is so unusual.