Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Poetic Break 5

I have R.S. Thomas' collected poems on the windowsill beside where I'm sitting with my laptop on my knee.  I always keep the latest volume of poems that I am reading thereon.  at the moment it is accompanied by a collection of the Gaelic poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh who is surely the greatest living Gaelic poet in Ireland.  I dip in and out of both for inspiration, and, indeed enjoyment and pleasure.  I'll confine myself to poems in English in this blog.  I will comment on Ó Searcaigh's poems in my Gaelic Blog which you can find in the links on the right column of this blog under the heading Aisling.

Anyway back to R.S. Thomas, with whom I am somewhat besotted these days.  I find his poems strong, virile, full of energy and very inspiring to say the least.  When I read his words he brings me on a journey to my own country and peasant roots, back to the soil as it were, almost as if I had the clay once more under my finger nails.  His poems blow a refreshing wind into my face this wet grey day in Dublin.  Today's offering, my friends is a strong little poem called Man and Tree:


Man and Tree

Study this man; he is older than the tree
That lays its gnarled hand on his meagre shoulder,
And even as wrinkled,  for the bladed wind,
Ploughs up the surface as the blood runs colder.
Look at his eyes, that are colourlessa as rain,
Yet hard and clear, knotted by years of pain.

Look at his locks, that the chill wind has left
With scant reluctance for the wind to bleach.
Notice his mouth and the dry, bird-like tongue,
That flutters and fails at the cracked door of his lips.
Dumb now and sapless? Yet this man can teach,
Even as an oak tree when its leaves are shed,
More in old silence than in youthful song.
I shall repeat myself here at the risk of boring the reader.  This is an extraordinarily strong poem, yet one full of compassion which is so objective that it roots all sentimentality and schmaltz out.  This is also an earthy and ecologically sound poem.  The man in this poem is almost a tree and the tree itself is almost a man.  This may seem strange to any reader who might be unaccostomed to reading any poetry, never mind brilliant poetry like that of R.S. Thomas.  As a sort of "tree-hugger" and ecologist/green myself, who subscribes to the principle that our blue planet is Mother Earth or Gaia and that we human animals are very much part of that world which is one overarching brilliantly beautiful organism, I believe that we too are creatures like our brother and sister animals of all kinds and types who happen to share the same earthly home.  I am not surprised by Thomas's juxtaposition, nay symbiotic combination of man and tree.  In fact it inspires and delights me.  Modern genetics teaches that there is very little in our genetic makeup that divides us from the animal kingdom, and surprisingly little more that divides us from the plant world too.  I'm not surprised.  We are indeed made of earthy stuff.  Like the animals and the trees we are made of clay and we, too, sprang from it.

Read this poem.  Read it twice, three times, four times.  Nay, more, meditate upon it.  Let it rest in your mind and seep into your very heart or soul.  It will grow roots there. I promise!

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