Since I have a deep respect for Rowan Williams, who is a first-rate theologian and accomplished poet, I am inclined to explore the poetry of fellow Welshman and Anglican R. S. Thomas on his recommendation alone. Here is an introductory video on the poet.
From David E. Anderson’s “The Things of This World” (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly):
In the twentieth century, one of the greatest poets of the dialectical imagination was the Welsh Anglican priest R.S. Thomas (1913-2000). Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called him “as influential as T.S. Eliot in religious circles,” and one critic designated Thomas “a poet of the Cross, the unanswered prayer, the bleak trek through darkness.” His powerful poem “The Porch” needs little explication:
Do you want to know his name?
It is forgotten. Would you learn
what he was like? He was like
anyone else, a man with ears
and eyes. Be it sufficient
that in a church porch on an evening
in winter, the moon rising, the frost
sharp, he was driven to his knees and for no reason
he knew. The cold came at him;
his breath was carved angularly
as the tombstones; an owl screamed.
He had no power to pray.
His back turned on the interior
he looked out on a universe
that was without knowledge
of him and kept his place
there for an hour on that lean
threshold, neither outside nor in.
God’s absence, wrote Thomas, was for him like a presence “that compels me to address it without hope of a reply.”
From David E. Anderson, “R. S. Thomas: Poet of the Cross” (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly):
Thomas is mostly interested in God’s silence or absence, the deus absconditus or hidden God, and what that means for forging an identity in the modern world. What language might be used to address such a God in a meaningful way? As Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written, R.S. Thomas was—like one of the poet’s spiritual mentors, Soren Kierkegaard—a “great articulator of uneasy faith.”
Rowan Williams, in his essay “R.S. Thomas and Kierkegaard” in the collection Echoes to the Amen: Essays after R.S. Thomas, argues that a kind of complex love begins to address, not resolve, this paradox [of absence and presence]. He cites a passage from The Echoes Return Slow:
But love answers it
in its turn: I am old now and have died
many times, but my rebirth is surer
than the truth embalming itself
in the second law of your Thermo-Dynamics.
The lines point a slow coming to a kind of faith, a faith in the poet’s own resurrection of some sort that he posits, at least momentarily, is as certain as the dead laws of science and technology. There is in the poem something of the dying to self in order to be born again. Williams concludes that “God, for Thomas, is both the frustration of every expectation and the only exit from despair. And that God is encountered only in the embrace of finitude.”
- Swansea University: Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, and, Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, discuss the poetry of R. S. Thomas, “Laboratories of the Spirit”
- The Guardian: Rowan Williams reviews R. S. Thomas: Serial Obsessive by M. Wynn Thomas
- New Welsh Review: Rob Mimpriss, Did R. S. Thomas Believe in God?