Sunday, October 30, 2016

Autumn through the words of R.S Thomas


What comes to your mind when you shut your eyes and say the word "autumn" ?

I see leaves - red, yellow and brown - flying aimlessly with the wind, and settling down on the leaf covered ground. Falling leaves are to me, the heart of autumn. In fact, my most favourite poems around autumn paint images of falling leaves more than anything else.

Here's a poem by R.S Thomas which I think is a beautiful evocation of the season.

A Thicket in Lleyn


I was no tree walking.
I was still. They ignored me,
the birds, the migrants
on their way south. They re-leafed
the trees, budding them
with their notes. They filtered through
the boughs like sunlight,
looked at me from three feet
off, their eyes blackberry bright,
not seeing me, not detaching me
from the withies, where I was
caged and they free.
They would have perched
on me, had I had nourishment
in my fissures. As it was,
they netted me in their shadows,
brushed me with sound, feathering the arrows
of their own bows, and were gone,
leaving me to reflect on the answer
to a question I had not asked.
'A repetition in time of the eternal
I AM.' Say it. Don't be shy.
Escape from your mortal cage
in thought. Your migrations will never
be over. Between two truths
there is only the mind to fly with.
Navigate by such stars as are not
leaves falling from life's
deciduous tree, but spray from the fountain
of the imagination, endlessly replenishing itself out of its own waters.

- R. S. Thomas, Experimenting with an Amen (Macmillan 1986).

I came across the poetry of R.S Thomas just about two years ago while working on an anthology in college and this was the first poem that I read of him. The autumnal images in the poem fascinated me a lot and I read more of his poetry and about him as well.

This poem seems to have been inspired from an experience he had written about in prose earlier. 
"There was a large ash tree at the entrance to the rectory lane that would be completely yellow by November. One autumn the leaves remained on it longer than usual. But there came a great frost one night, and the following day, as the sun rose, the leaves began to fall. They continued to fall for hours until the tree was like a golden fountain playing silently in the sun; I shall never forget it."
[R. S. Thomas, “Former Paths"(1972), in R. S. Thomas, Autobiographies (translated from Welsh by Jason Walford Davies) (J. M. Dent 1997), page 15]

Thomas revisited the incident in a later essay: 
"At the end of the lane from the rectory to the main road, there was a very large ash tree. The leaves remained on it very late one autumn, and all yellow. But one night in November it froze hard until, when morning came, everywhere was white. There was no wind, but as the sun rose above the hill, the leaves began to thaw in its modest warmth and then fall. For two hours or more it was as if a golden fountain were playing there, as the leaves fell to form a thick carpet covering the road."
[R. S. Thomas, "No-one" (1985), Ibid, page 101.]

I find it really interesting to look at a writer's different works as a whole and their life as an inconspicuous yet inseparable part of it as well. Sometimes it's too easy to draw parallels between a writer's different works but sometimes it isn't. 

The life and work of R.S Thomas is worth reading about. He was a Welsh poet writing in English and through his poetry, he tried to awaken the Welsh people from their apathy towards their country and their mother tongue. However, as a poet noted for his deep dislike for the anglicisation of Wales, it is strange that he wrote in English. 

Nevertheless, his poems paint beautiful images of the Welsh landscape and of his native South Wales countryside. I must also admit that his poems remind me of Robert Frost who wrote about the English countryside with such imagery. 


Woman with Autumn Leaves,  oil painting by Andrew Stevovich.




What are your favourite autumn poems? Have you read any other poems by R.S Thomas?