Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday 4/17/16

R. S. Thomas (1913–2000) said that “In order to understand imagination’s true meaning one must be acquainted with the work of Coleridge”. And, when writing the preface to his Penguin Book of Religious Verse (1963), it was to Coleridge that Thomas turned to justify the union of religion and poetry, paraphrasing him as saying that it is in the act of creating that one is closest to God.
Yet, in an essay in The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) in 1966, Thomas argued that poetry and religion are both “based on a homely foundation of common and palpable things, however high [their] uppermost towers soar”. The basis for meditations on life can be found in the concrete world around us.
Thomas says here there is no use in walking beside the sea with “theories” and a “vague philosophy”, as Thomas’s Coleridge does in this poem, for, like him, one will be “dazed” instead of enlightened by the “mock[ing]” sounds of nature, which appears actively hostile to scrutiny here – the “vain probing of [Coleridge’s] eye” is “repelled” and his theories “break” against the “nihilistic” sky. And so, Thomas has Coleridge – who defined the spiritual as being non-physical and believed the mind to “rise above Nature” – defeated and belittled by the world around him. (From TLS)
Or maybe it is just that Nature is an inadequate medium.


Walking often beside the waves’
Endless embroidery of the bare sand,
Coleridge never could understand,
Dazed by the knocking of the wind
In the ear’s passage, the chorus
Of shrill voices from the sea
That mocked his vague philosophy
In salt accents. And at tide’s retreat,
When the vexed ocean camping far
On the horizon filled the air
With dull thunder, ominous and low,
He felt his theories break and go
In small clouds about the sky,
Whose nihilistic blue repelled
The vain probing of his eye.

R. S. THOMAS (1952)

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