‘To be alive then’, by R.S. Thomas

To be alive then
was to be aware how necessary
prayer was and impossible.

The philosophers had done
their work well, demolishing
proofs we never believed in.

We were drifting in space-
time, in touch with what we had
left and could not return to.

We rehearsed the excuses
for the deficiencies of love’s
kingdom, avoiding our eyebeams.

Beset, as we were,
with science’s signposts, we whimpered
to no purpose that we were lost.

We are here still. What
is survival’s relationship
with meaning? The answer once

was the bone’s music at the lips
of time. We are incinerating
them both now in the mind’s crematorium.

– R.S. Thomas, Counterpoint (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1990), 44.


  1. Towards the end of his life, Thomas travelled to Greece. He wrote to a friend: “we pursued God up Olympus, but he vanished, as always, into thin air. Perhaps God is a monkey after all. They like to urinate at strangers.”
    He was a grim poet – love? forget it! – but a bit of a prankster too.


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