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Christine’s story: Kneeling by R S Thomas Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.
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It’s most relevant to consider how/when I first encountered the poems of RS Thomas! I was making up a Practical Criticism exam paper for a Higher English Prelim in the mid – ’80s and used Thomas’ poem “Evans” as the text. Analysing it closely in the course of setting the questions led me to appreciate just how wonderful a writer he was, and how knowing the poem meant it spoke to me even more than I had first thought. In the aftermath of this I began seeking out his poetry and buying anthologies – as well as writing him a fan letter and receiving a very kind response! I found “Kneeling” in Selected Poems 1946-1968.

At the time I could only see the wonderful silent drama of the priest at the altar – with the suggestion of acting, but the underlying current of something more. As a relatively recent convert to Christianity as found in the Anglican church, this was my experience – or at least how I felt from the pew end of the drama. And Thomas’s poetry has been the inspiration for my own writing for the past 10 years.

Now it has the added meaning found in the last four and a half lines – the tension of waiting for something which in fact words will not be able to convey. Having graduated from pew fodder to lay preacher, it means more every time I get up to preach! And it’s part of my growing experience of Thomas that his last lines will often hit me like a blow of recognition or wonder.

When I was teaching, I actually carried a very small copy I’d made and mounted on card and laminated. It lived in my pocket or in the bag I carried to work. But I lost that some time in the business of retiring, and by then really I knew much of it by heart – though I’ve never been very good at verbatim repetition of more than a line at a time!

Christine McIntosh is a former English teacher on the loose in Dunoon