‘There is a being, they say’, by R.S. Thomas

There is a being, they say,
neither body nor spirit,
that is more power than reason, more reason
than love, whose origins
are unknown, who is apart
and with us, the silence
to which we appeal, the architect
of our failure. It takes the genes
and experiments with them and our children
are born blind, or seeing have
smooth hands that are the instruments
of destruction. It is the spoor
in the world’s dark leading away
from the discovered victim, the expression
the sky shows us after
an excess of spleen. It has gifts it
distributes to those least fitted
to use them. It is everywhere and
nowhere, and looks sideways into the shocked face
of life, challenging it to disown it.

– R.S. Thomas, Counterpoint (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1990), 20.


  1. In reply to this fairly gloomy piece of Thomas, let me offer this:

    The Answer – RS Thomas

    Not darkness but twilight
    In which even the best
    of minds must make its way
    now. And slowly the questions
    occur, vague but formidable
    for all that. We pass our hands
    over their surface like blind
    men feeling for the mechanism
    that will swing them aside. They
    yield, but only to re-form
    as new problems; and one
    does not even do that
    but towers immovable
    before us.

    Is there no way
    of other thought of answering
    its challenge? There is an anticipation
    of it to the point of
    dying. There have been times
    when, after long on my knees
    in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
    from my mind, and I have looked
    in and seen the old questions lie
    folded and in a place
    by themselves, like the piled
    graveclothes of love’s risen body.

    I suspect the line “of other thought of answering” should read “or other thought of answering” but I might be misreading it.


  2. An astonishing image: ‘the spoor/in the world’s dark/ leading away/from the discovered victim’. Perhaps the most crucial phrase in the poem comes in the opening line? ‘they say’? Perhaps this is a disavowal of a god of popular belief? A hauntingly beautiful poem, in any case.


  3. If by ‘a god of popular belief’ you mean Satan I agree. As Girard would say, it is Satan who leads us away from the discovered victim, ensuring blindness with respect to our victimage mechanisms.


  4. Lol and those are some of his more hopeful ones…check out the two we recently looked at in a small group study. I really like how he engages with the apophatic stuff.

    The Island

    And God said, I will build a church here
    And cause this people to worship me,
    And afflict them with poverty and sickness
    In return for centuries of hard work
    And patience.
    And its walls shall be hard as
    Their hearts, and its windows let in the light
    Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned
    By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,
    Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes
    Grow, and their lips suppurate with
    Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth
    On my altar, and I will choose the best
    Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

    And that was only on one island.

    Via Negativa

    Why no! I never thought other than
    That God is that great absence
    In our lives, the empty silence
    Within, the place where we go
    Seeking, not in hope to
    Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
    In our knowledge, the darkness
    Between stars. His are the echoes
    We follow, the footprints he has just
    Left. We put our hands in
    His side hoping to find
    It warm. We look at people
    And places as though he had looked
    At them, too; but miss the reflection.


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