Poetry for Supper

The metaphor of windows in this poem by R.S. Thomas I find to be brilliant. I know I have a lot of nerve writing about poetry, because I am fairly ignorant, and do not show myself to be a dedicated or persevering student of the art. I also don’t write it, though I wish I did, because I appreciate the economy of words and the respect for the language that a good poem demonstrates.

That is, when it serves as a window, a possible purpose of a poem that one of the “old poets” in Thomas’s poem mentions. From my limited experience, it seems that many poem-windows are only good for being in a window museum. Someone puts a variable amount of work and skill into a poem, and many times all they end up with is an artsy window frame that is indeed unique and an expression of the hopeful poet’s individuality, but has nothing to do with light. It may be interesting, it may have been fulfilling for the artist, but it completely fails as something useful to anyone else; it has no “beauty of function.”

Easy for me to say, who might be described by the last line of this poem, “glib with prose.” I do find it challenging to talk about poetry, but talking is always easier than writing it.


‘Listen, now, verse should be as natural
As the small tuber that feeds on muck
And grows slowly from obtuse soil
To the white flower of immortal beauty.’

‘Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer
Said once about the long toil
That goes like blood to the poem’s making?
Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls,
Limp as bindweed, if it break at all
Life’s iron crust. Man, you must sweat
And rhyme your guts taut, if you’d build
Your verse a ladder.’

‘You speak as though
No sunlight ever surprised the mind
Groping on its cloudy path.’

‘Sunlight’s a thing that needs a window
Before it enter a dark room.
Windows don’t happen.’

So two old poets,
Hunched at their beer in the low haze
Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran
Noisily by them, glib with prose.

— R.S. Thomas

r.s. thomas_photo_large

5 thoughts on “Poetry for Supper

  1. I love the words and how they ring together. They feel good in my mouth. Good in my brain too. I love that he isn’t taking himself or his poetry that serious, but loving the feel of it in his soul.


  2. You’ve spoken so well about feeling your own limitations when it comes to poetry. I feel even less adequate. But I do so love the imagery, in the hands of a skilled writer, that springs to mind.


  3. This is such a concept, and one I’ve pondered. I’ve experienced both, over the years — poetry that came as a result of hard work, revision, and grinding away in the constraints of a form. And other poems that came to my mind, and their words spilled out easily. And both kinds felt and tasted good to me. And other years when neither kind appear. It’s a mystery to me.


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