The traveller gets down
onto a midnight platform
and knows from the rustle
of unseen water-
falls he has come home.
from R S Thomas 'Afallon' (No Truce with the Furies)
With these lines (notice that characteristic R S Thomas line break of 'water-/falls') Dr Rowan Williams began his talk at the R S Thomas and Mildred Eldridge Festival in Aberdaron last Saturday. He structured his ideas round two concepts, place and space.
He emphasised the importance of place, which sets the agenda, which operates on the individual from without. Ecological thinking is thinking with the environment we inhabit. 'Art is a suvival skill', he said, 'it is drawing on the resources of what is around us'. The truthfulness of poetry is 'sustainable language', a language you can keep coming back to.
By contrast, space is egocentric, where the individual sets the agenda. He cited the example of an airport lounge which gives the experience of being nowhere in particular. He thought that a large part of our public culture (advertising, politics etc) contributed to a sense of loneliness, fear and franticness.
In the afternoon Dr Sandra Anstey spoke on 'Revisiting R S Thomas through his poetry, prose and conversations.' She has studied the work of R S Thomas for many years and has a wonderful archive of letters, publications and recordings, dating back to the 1970s when she started to visit him for her research on his poetry. She spoke of R S Thomas's kindness, generosity and patience as well as his sense of humour.
Sandra Anstey played a series of tape recordings she had made of their discussions. These included his views on poetry ('a poem should have a tough hard middle, an inner core'), on titles ('titles are a blinking nuisance' - perhaps that's why there are several duplicate titles in his work), and on his normal routine ('reading in the morning, walking in the afternoon, vegetating in the evening').
Both Dr Anstey and Dr Williams were fascinating speakers and their talks have sent me back to the poems of R S Thomas once again.
And the cobbled water
Of the stream with the trout's indelible
Shadows that winter
Has not erased - I walk it
Again under a clean
Sky with the fish, speckled like thrushes,
Silently singng among the weed's
(from 'The River' H'M)