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.
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
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.
Love the poem Jason… very girardian
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.
It has a Cormac McCarthy feel to me.
You’re right about the ‘they say’!
I like the link between being ‘born blind’ and ‘leading away from the discovered victim’
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Wonderful stuff Raz. It’s most encouraging to see you reading RS Thomas. I’m slowly making way through his corpus, and I plan to post more of his poems.