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R. S. Thomas.


R. S. Thomas, the Welsh poet-priest, was born in Cardiff in 1913. An only child, he was raised in Holyhead in north Wales, on the island of Anglesey. His mother was a devout, dominating woman; his father, a seaman, was often away from home. Early on, Thomas established a pattern that he maintained throughout his life, roaming the moors and, especially, seeking the "true solitude" of the sea he so much loved.

Thomas's mother, who had been raised as the ward of an Anglican priest, encouraged him to pursue a career in the priesthood. Accordingly, Thomas read classics at the University College of North Wales in Bangor and then attended St. Michael's College in Llandaff for his theological training. He was quickly ordained a deacon and, in 1937, a priest in the Anglican Church. He married Mildred Eldridge ("Elsi"), an English artist and painter, in 1940.

In the course of his long life in the ministry Thomas served a series of Welsh parishes, each of them in rural, isolated places. Of these, his two twelve year postings to Manafon, in central Wales, and to Aberdaron, on the very tip of the Llyn peninsula in north Wales, were most important to his life and to his work as a poet. At Manafon, Thomas wrote poems celebrating the Welsh landscape and describing the people in the rural communities. At Aberdaron, he developed and deepened his dominant theological theme in the powerful poems at the center and climax of his career.

Thomas retired from the priesthood in 1978, and he and his wife moved to a small centuries-old stone cottage overlooking the bay at Porth Neigwl ("The Mouth of Hell"). Elsi died in 1991. In 1996, Thomas married Elizabeth Vernon, and they moved to Pentrefelin, near Criccieth. There, in 2000, at the age of eighty-seven, Thomas died.

In the course of his long and busy life, Thomas managed to write hundreds of poems. He published over thirty books of poetry, beginning with The Stones of the Field (1946) and ending with No Truce with the Furies (1995). There has been one posthumous collection, Residues (2002), but there remain scores of unpublished poems in manuscript and, no doubt, published poems not yet found. Thomas also published prose, most of it written in Welsh. The prose pieces include several autobiographical essays, one of which is Neb (1985), whose title is the Welsh word for "No-One." Thomas also edited other poets (Edward Thomas, Herbert and Wordsworth) and the anthologies, The Batsford Book of Country Verse (1967) and The Penguin Book of Religious Verse (1963).

Thomas received numerous awards and honors for his work. Of these, the most notable are: the Heinemann Award from the Royal Society of Literature, the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, four Welsh Arts Council Awards, the Cholmondeley Award, the Cheltenham Prize, the Horst Bienek Prize for Poetry from the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award for Poetry, and a nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Note: In the pages that follow, whenever possible, Thomas's poems will be referenced to his Collected Poems 1945-1990 (J. M. Dent, 1993) and his Collected Later Poems 1988-2000 (Bloodaxe Books, 2004). These collections will be cited CP and CLP respectively.
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Author:Davis, William V.
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Joseph M. Schwartz Memorial Essay Prize.
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