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The Ancients of the World -- R S Thomas

       
(Poem #152) The Ancients of the World
The salmon lying in the depths of Llyn Llifon
    Secretly as a thought in a dark mind,
Is not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd
    Who tells her sorrow nightly on the wind.

The ousel singing in the woods of Cilgwri,
    Tirelessly as a stream over the mossed stones,
Is not so old as the toad of Cors Fochno
    Who feels the cold skin sagging round his bones.

The toad and the ousel and the stag of Rhedynfre,
    That has cropped each leaf from the tree of life,
Are not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd,
    That the proud eagle would have to wife.
-- R S Thomas
from George Macbeth]

... R[onald] S[tuart] Thomas was born in Wales in 1913, a year before
his more famous namesake Dylan Thomas. He has lived his life as a
clergyman, often in the remote country parishes whose landscape and
people he has celebrated in his poems...

</Macbeth>

Actually, this is an extremely atypical piece for Thomas, so I'll defer
the critical assessment of his career and all the other usual et ceteras
to a later date.

Anyway, back to the poem at hand.

It's hard to define just _what_ it is I like about 'The Ancients of the
World'. It's not as if a great deal happens in the poem; indeed, there
are just the three descriptive stanzas, and that's it. And yet...

There's a magic there somewhere, which I can't quite explain. Certainly
the imagery is remarkably effective in its simplicity; certainly there's
a glorious 'Welshness' to the verse itself [1], in the strong rhythms
and the clean syllables; certainly there's a mythic resonance to the
names, redolent as they are with Arthurian and Celtic legend [2].
Still...

Most certain of all, perhaps, is the fact that for this poem, the whole
_is_ greater than the sum of the parts.

Call it genius.

thomas.

[1] As an aside: just what is it about the Welsh, that their poetry is
so damn good? Sheer music, some of it is.
[2] The names, of course, are from the Mabinogion, the repository of a
wealth of Celtic folklore and mythology, and a truly amazing work of
literature. SF&F fans amongst you may also have spotted the reference in
Susan Cooper's "The Grey King", another lovely book.

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

John Saunders said...

This is a great poem

Gwilym Williams said...

To answer the above question "What is it about the Welsh that their poetry is so damn good?"
The old answer will have to suffice:
To be born Welsh is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth
but with music in your blood and poetry in your soul.
(Anadnabyddus)

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