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R.S. Thomas; Priest, Welsh Nationalist, Poet

R.S. Thomas, 87, Anglican priest and Welsh nationalist who became one of Britain’s most admired poets. Nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1996, Robert Stuart Thomas was known for his plain, somber, meditative poetry about nature, religion and Welsh nationalism. Although born in Cardiff, Wales, Thomas, as the son of a sailor, grew up in English coastal cities speaking English. A man of contradictions, he did not learn the Welsh language until he was 30 and wrote all his poems in English, yet staunchly advocated restoring Welsh in Wales and abolishing bilingualism. Thomas wrote his autobiography in Welsh but said he lacked the necessary grasp of the difficult language to employ it in poems. He advocated legislation barring English people from buying property in Wales and in the 1980s urged “nonviolent night attacks” against the homes of English people in Welsh-speaking areas. As a result, many English-owned homes were torched. Educated at the University College of North Wales and St. Michael’s College, Thomas was ordained a priest in 1937 and, eventually rising to vicar, spent more than 40 years ministering to working families in six Welsh towns. The hard-working farmers and their harsh countryside, along with his own nationalism, fueled his poetry. He took up poetry seriously only after meeting his first wife, the late artist Mildred E. Eldridge. His first book, “The Stones of the Field,” was published in 1946, and he gained a national following a decade later when he published “Song at the Year’s Turning: Poems, 1942-1954.” Thomas earned three awards from the Welsh Arts Council and in 1964 the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. On Monday in Pentrefelin, Wales.


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