By R.S. Thomas

Consider this man in the field beneath.

Gaitered with mud, lost on his own breath,

Without joy, without sorrow,

Without children, without wife.

Stumbling insensitively from furrow to furrow,

A vague somnambulist; but hold your tears,

For his name also is written in the Book of Life.

Ransack your brainbox, pull out the drawers

That rot in your heart’s dust, and what have you to give

To enrich his spirit or the way he lives?

From the standpoint of education or caste or creed

Is there anything to show that your essential need

Is less than his, who has the world for church,

And stands bare-headed in the woods’ wife porch

Morning and evening to hear God’s choir

Scatter their praises? Don’t be taken in

By stinking garments or an aimless grin;

He also is human, and the same small star,

That lights you homeward, has inflamed his mind

With the old hunger, born of his kind.

I’m on an R.S. Thomas kick. 1913-2000. Welsh poet, Anglican priest, major curmudgeon, deeply private. Not seemingly cut out to be a pastor–few people skills. Suffered, obviously. Considered to be in the top tier of contemporary Welsh poets.

Read a wonderful biography of him a while back: The Man Who Went Into the West, by Byron Rogers.

His work cuts me to the quick.

When I read “Affinity,” I thought Yes. That is who I write for.

Not the erudite, the intellectually self-sufficient, the preeners and self-congratulators.

But those who are on their knees weeping, not even so much out of gratitude or reverence or awe, but from sheer exhaustion. From utter poverty of spirit.

Interesting piece on the Flying Wallendas, trapeze artist family, in the most recent issue of The Current, the newsletter of Rhode Island’s Portsmouth Abbey. The abbey is dear to my heart–I’ve visited a couple of times and have dear friends there. I’m also terrified of heights and am fascinated by people who devote their lives to walking on wires or sheer cliff faces high above the earth. Must expore further.

Also read Dwell Time: A Memoir of Art, Exile and Repair, by Rosa Lowinger, a Jewish-Cuban art conservator, based loosely in LA. “How, I wondered, was it possible that non one in my family had ever told me that Havana, the place where we were from, was so closely aligned to my work? More importantly, how had I managed to reencounter this ornately decorated, sagging city at the precise moment when I was beginning to see a link between restoration of the materlal world and personal healing?”

“Dwell time,” by the way, is a term of art.

“In art conservation, we avoid…harsh processes. We are the masters of the slow and steady, using only methods and materials that do their job without inflicing damage. This takes many different forms, but in cleaning, the measure of how long it takes for a product to work on a substrate is called dwell time. Dwell time can also mean the total time a person spends at an airport, or looking at a web page, or the time a family lingers at a border, waiting to get into a country, or the time you live in a city before moving on.”

Additional interesting fact: “The earliest surviving Christian paintings were made at a time when adherence to the religion was punishable by death” (via scholar Joachim Gaehde).

And here’s my latest YouTube: a little reflection on Alfred Hitchcock’s evil-comes-to-a-small-town masterpiece, and Monsignor Romano Guardini’s The Rosary of Our Lady.

9 Replies to “THE SAME SMALL STAR”

  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    Love your videos, closest thing to an actual in-person conversation. 🙂

    Re Guardini’s emphasis on the “Word”. It reminded me of a piece by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that you might find interesting; I know I did. It starts like this:

    “’Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’.” These words are the supreme testimony of Jewish faith. Each word is worthy of careful study, but it is the first – the verb Shema – that deserves special attention.

    There was a profound difference between the two civilisations of antiquity that between them shaped the culture of the West: ancient Greece and ancient Israel. The Greeks were the supreme masters of the visual arts: art, sculpture, architecture and the theatre.

    Jews, as a matter of profound religious principle, were not. God, the sole object of worship, is invisible. He transcends nature. He created the universe and is therefore beyond the universe. He cannot be seen. He reveals Himself only in speech. Therefore the supreme religious act in Judaism is to listen. Ancient Greece was a culture of the eye; ancient Israel a culture of the ear. The Greeks worshipped what they saw; Israel worshipped what they heard.”

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Wonderful, thank you…the Word transcends and is deeper even than art. I love this: “Therefore the supreme religious act in Judaism is to listen”…

  2. Michael Stanley says: Reply

    Wonderful poem. Thanks for sharing it as well as your offerings to this oft blighted, bloated and bloody world.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      That’s a keeper, Michael: “Oft blighted, bloated and bloody world.” The name of my next book?…Thomas often writes of these rock-hard, seemingly dullard workers of the field/tenders of animals…solitary figures…no “culture” to speak of, nor “church” religion…but their fidelity to their watch and to the unforgiving land is perhaps a kind of faith that most of us can hardly imagine…

  3. Susan Manus says: Reply

    I loved Shadow of a Doubt. Fascinating movie. Have you seen The Little Foxes? I believe it was Teresa Wright’s first movie and she was nominated for an Academy award. It stars Bette Davis, and their final scene together in the movie is dynamite. Lots of dysfunction in that family! Great, great movie.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ooh yeah, Susan, is that the one where Herbart Marshall needs his heart medicine and evil Bette watches him writhe and die!? I must watch it again. Thansk for bringing The Little Foxes to our attention!

      1. Anonymous says: Reply

        Yes, that’s the one!

  4. Anonymous says: Reply

    Thank you Heather. Must admit I had to look up somnambulist. For those who love words, that is a cool word. I appreciate the introduction to R.S. Thomas. Sounds like my kind of guy.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha oh everyone should know the world somnambulist, just for good measure, and RS Thomas is a rare gem, to my mind…


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