Ruth Gouldbourne, now senior pastor at Bloomsbury Baptist, introduced me to Thomas’s poetry, one of several things for which I will always remain in her debt. Wales produced more than its fair share of worthwhile poets in the twentieth century, but I’d trade all of them – not excluding Wilfred Owen – for Thomas if I had to. I bought his Collected Poems five years’ back; it is now falling apart (a fate only suffered by my T.S. Eliot; but then I had the sense to buy MacDiarmid, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge – and several others – in hb). His vision is gaunt and spare to the extreme; his genius to express religious themes (he was an Anglican priest) in imagery that belongs to an industrial age. Here is one of his takes on the atonement, from Tares (1961):
A memory of Kreisler once:
At some recital in this same city,
The seats all taken, I found myself pushed
On to the stage with a few others,
So near that I could see the toil
Of his face muscles, a pulse like a moth
Fluttering under the fine skin
And the indelible veins of his smooth brow.
I could see, too, the twitching of the fingers,
Caught temporarily in art’s neurosis,
As we sat there or warmly applauded
This player who so beautifully suffered
For each of us upon his instrument.
So it must have been on Calvary
In the fiercer light of the thorns’ halo:
The men standing by and that one figure,
The hands bleeding, the mind bruised but calm,
Making such music as lives still.
And no one daring to interrupt
Because it was himself that he played
And closer than all of them the God listened.