Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Pearls before swine

I'm in a funny mood today - keeping an eye on cricket, tonight's World Cup semi-final and the Tour de France, but with odd bits of poetry going through my head at the same time.

I'm re-reading some Larkin at the moment, a thrilling and simultaneously unpleasant experience. That led me to R S Thomas, perhaps the greatest poet of the last hundred years, and whom Larkin not-quite hilariously referred to as 'Arsewipe Thomas'.

Specifically, wondering about Larkin's posthumous reputation made me think of Thomas's bitter, despairing, 'Death of a Poet'.

Laid now on his smooth bed

For the last time, watching dully

Through heavy eyelids the day's colour

Widow the sky, what can he say

Worthy of record, the books all open,

Pens ready, the faces, sad,

Waiting gravely for the tired lips

To move once -- what can he say?

His tongue wrestles to force one word

Past the thick phlegm; no speech, no phrases

For the day's news, just the one word ‘sorry';

Sorry for the lies, for the long failure

In the poet's war; that he preferred 

The easier rhythms of the heart 

To the mind's scansion; that now he dies

Intestate, having nothing to leave

But a few songs, cold as stones

In the thin hands that asked for bread.

I wonder if he had it in mind the last time I saw him give a reading. It was in Bangor University's main lecture theatre. Thomas has just published Between Sea and Sky: Images of Bardsey, a collaboration with Peter Hope Jones, the photographer. Thomas was very old and frail, and many of us suspected it was his last public appearance. Some more mercenary people thought so too: whereas I asked him to sign Between Sea and Sky, the book-dealers were hovering like vultures, getting him to sign much older and valuable editions solely to increase their value.

1 comment:

The Plashing Vole said...

Before anyone asks, I've no idea why Blogger insists on making the last line bigger than all the others. I've reset it a few times with no joy.