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One of the most insipid claims made by militant atheists and their ilk is that religion is a refuge for the weak-minded who can't face doubts and require blind faith. In fact, most of the truly profound doubts have been expressed by men who worked through them to get to their wide-eyed faith. And no one has ever been more eloquent about doubt than the great Welsh nationalist clergyman, R. S. Thomas.

Consider just a few of his poems and the ache of loneliness they convey as he contemplates a God who refuses to speak to him but in whose existence and love he still chooses to believe. This faith is anything but thoughtless and doubtless:

The Absence

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?
The Empty Church

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illumined walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?
The Other

There are nights that are so still

that I can hear the small owl


far off and a fox barking

miles away. It is then that I lie

in the lean hours awake listening

to the swell born somewhere in

the Atlantic

rising and falling, rising and


wave on wave on the long shore

by the village that is without


and companionless. And the

thought comes

of that other being who is

awake, too,

letting our prayers break on him,

not like this for a few hours,

but for days, years, for eternity.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Ronald Thomas Links:

    -R. S. Thomas Study Center (Bangor University)
    -WIKIPEDIA : R. S. Thomas
    -OBIT: Wales loses its most sustained lyric voice: Hermit-like poet RS Thomas dies aged 87 (John Ezard and Geoff Gibbs, 27 September 2000, The Guardian)
    -OBIT: RS Thomas - Wales' s outspoken poet (BBC, 9/26/00)
    -OBIT: R. S. Thomas, 87, Clergyman Poet Drawn by the Welsh Countryside (NY Times, September 29, 2000)
    -OBIT: R.S. Thomas; Priest, Welsh Nationalist, Poet (LA Times, September 27, 2000)
    -POET PAGE: R. S. Thomas (Poetry Foundation)
    -POET PAGE: R. S. Thomas (Poetry Archive)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Everyman's Poetry : R S Thomas
    -POEM ARCHIVE: R. S. Thomas (The Writers' Almanac)
    -BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. S. Thomas (Damian Walford Davies, Oxford Bibliographies)
    -R.S. Thomas Study Centre (Bangor University)
    -TRIBUTE: RS Thomas: Centenary since his birth (Phil Carradice, 3/29/13, BBC)
    -BLOG: Doubt & Belief : A Blog on the Poems of R.S. Thomas (John G. McEllhenney)
    -R.S. Thomas (Poetry Chaikhana, Sacred Poetry from Around the World)
    -TRIBUTE: R.S. Thomas: Poet of the Cross (David E. Anderson, April 20, 2011, Religion & Ethics)
    -TRIBUTE: RS Thomas: Centenary since his birth (BBC, 3/29/13)
    -ESSAY: Passing Through Hard Facts: The Poetry of R.S. Thomas (Ephraim Radner, 11/19/86, Christian Century)
-TRIBUTE: A Few Thoughts on an R.S. Thomas Year (Tony Brown, 20.12.13, Planet)
    -ESSAY: The Deus Absconditus of R.S. Thomas (Kim, November 16, 2006, Connexions)
    -ESSAY: Did RS Thomas Believe in God? (Rob Mimpriss, New Welsh Review)
    -TRIBUTE: Van Gogh’s Ear V – RS Thomas, the Clint Eastwood of the Spirit (Darran Anderson, 3 AM)
    -ESSAY: Passing Through Hard Facts: The Poetry of R.S. Thomas (Ephraim Radner, Religion Online)
    -ESSAY: ‘In a Country Church’ by R. S. Thomas (introduced by Jemima Walker, 3 June 2014, TLS)
    -TRIBUTE: R S Thomas 1913 - 2000 (St Hywyn's Church, Aberdaron)
    -ESSAY: R.S. Thomas's Existential Agony (John PikoulisMartin Roberts, Poetry Magazine)
    -ESSAY: R.S. Thomas and the Problem of Welsh Identity (Jeffery Alan Triggs)
    -ESSAY: R.?S. Thomas’s “Luminary” (Sadie Stein, February 14, 2014, Paris Review)
    -ESSAY: Stolen Time with R.S. Thomas (Tom Davies, Ship of Fools)
    -ESSAY: North West Wales: beauty, culture and Rev R S Thomas (Between Worlds)
    -ESSAY: R.S. Thomas’s Adjectives (Edward MacKinnin)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Frown by Frown (Ian Hamilton, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Uncollected Poems, by R. S. Thomas; edited by Jason Walford Davies and Tony Brown (Jeffrey Johnson, Christian Century)
    -REVIEW: of Uncollected Poems (Carl Griffin, Wales Arts Review)
    -REVIEW: of Uncollected Poems (Brian B. McClorry SJ, Thinking Faith)
    -REVIEW: of Uncollected Poems (Patrick Kurp, Quarterly Conversation)
    -REVIEW: of Uncollected Poems (Carl Griffin, Wales Art Review)
    -REVIEW: of Wrestling with angels - R.S Thomas (MICHLE ROBERTS, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Collected Later Poems of R.S. Thomas (Diarmuid Johnson, Transcript)
    -REVIEW: of 'Imagined Greetings: Poetic Engagements with R.S. Thomas', by David Lloyd (Peter J. Conradi, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of The Man Who Went Into the West by Byron Rogers (Andrew Martin, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Went into the West (Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Went into the West (Peter Washington, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of RS Thomas: Serial Obsessive by M Wynn Thomas (Rowan Williams , The Guardian)

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