The Absence

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 5:3

I liked the first poem I read by R.S. Thomas so well that I borrowed a collection of his poems from the library. It had some water damage already so I don’t worry about leaving it in the bathroom or reading it at the breakfast table, and I’ve been perusing it for a few weeks.

One doesn’t have to explore this book for very long to find that Thomas’s poetry is full of the feeling of coldness between us and God. Themes of harsh landscape and winter reappear, with lots of stone, stone, stone. My husband has been watching a TV detective series set in Wales and he commented that he would not want to live there, it looks so bleak. Maybe Thomas’s perspective is touched by the geography of his homeland.

This poem below is an example of this tone, though it’s not as painful as some of his verse that describes the alienation that is so common to the human experience. The last line relieves me with its hopeful turn and reminds me of what I’ve heard elsewhere: It’s only when we are truly empty of anything to offer God, and present ourselves humbly before Him, that He can speak to us, with His fullness that is silence, His presence that is His Word.


It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resource have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

— R.S. Thomas

wales stones
Bryn Cader Faner cairn in Wales

5 thoughts on “The Absence

  1. Thank you for bringing Thomas back to light, and for your helpful words. I might have missed this poem otherwise. I’d like to save it and your reflection, in my little journal (“reblog”), which I have slighted in favor of reading others in search of something I keep missing. That vacuum fills my space also.


  2. Is your husband watching Hinterland? I just saw that it’s on Netflix and the opening scene, he is running on a green landscape bordering the ocean…looks beautiful, but the sky is quite gray.


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