Week 218: Retirement, by R.S.Thomas

You don’t go to R.S.Thomas’s poems for consolation, but you do go to them for the quiet satisfaction of their craftsmanship, for their flow of images and metaphors, never imposed on the poem but coming from some deep well of devotion within it. The ‘bough of country’ here is the Lleyn peninsula in Wales, Thomas’s final home. ‘Subsong’ is birdsong that is softer and less well defined than the usual territorial song, a ‘quiet warbling’ used by some birds especially in courtship: wryly appropriate here given Thomas’s passion for birdwatching.


I have crawled out at last
far as I dare on to a bough
of country that is suspended
between sky and sea.

From what was I escaping?
There is a rare peace here
though the aeroplanes buzz me,
reminders of that abyss,

deeper than sea or sky, civilisation
could fall into. Strangers
advance, inching their way
out, so that the branch bends

further away from the scent
of the cloud blossom. Must
I console myself
with reflections? There are

times even the mirror
is misted as by one breathing
over my shoulder. Clinging
to my position, witnessing

the seasonal migrations,
I must try to content
myself with the perception
that love and truth have

no wings, but are resident
like me here, practising
their subsong quietly in the face
of the bitterest of winters.




1 thought on “Week 218: Retirement, by R.S.Thomas

  1. I remember attending a reading he gave once, early 70s, in Manchester. It was more a duty than a pleasure.
    But then, who said it should be a pleasure? That is only one aspect, the delight in craftsmanship you mentioned. A poem is many things.
    Best wishes for the New Year.

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