R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) is a major writer of our time, one of the finest religious poets in the English language and one of Wales’s greatest poets. He published over 50 books of poetry and prose. Most of his poems from his first 50 years of writing are in Collected Poems 1945-1990 (Phoenix Press), while the poems from his last five collections are included in Collected Later Poems (2004) from Bloodaxe. His Penguin Selected Poems is a curious selection drawing on both his Collecteds. His Uncollected Poems, edited by Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies (Bloodaxe Books, 2013), selects previously published but uncollected poems included in none of his other published books. This was followed by Too Brave to Dream: encounters with modern art (Bloodaxe Books, 2016), also edited by Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies, a collection of his recently discovered poems on modernist art published with reproductions of the work which inspired them.
Born in Cardiff, the son of a sea captain, he moved with his family in 1918 to Holyhead on Anglesey. He was awarded a bursary in 1932 to study at the University College of North Wales, Bangor, where he read Classics. In 1936, having completed his theological training at St. Michael's College, Llandaff, he was ordained as a priest in the Church in Wales. From 1936 to 1940 he was the curate of Chirk, Denbighshire, where he met his future wife, Mildred (Elsi) Eldridge, an English artist. He subsequently became curate at Tallarn Green, Flintshire. They married in 1940 and remained together until her death in 1991. He married his second wife Betty in 1996.
From 1942 to 1954 Thomas was rector at Manafon, in rural Montgomeryshire. It was during his time at Manafon that he first began to study Welsh and that he published his first three volumes of poetry. He learnt the Welsh language at the age of 30, too late in life, he said, to be able to write poetry in it, although he did write and publish memoirs in Welsh. In his later years he worked in predominantly Welsh-speaking communities at Eglwys-fach and Aberdaron. He retired from the Church in 1978, and afterwards lived on Anglesey and on Llyn.
He won several awards, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964. In 1996 he won the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award for Poetry and the Horst Bienek Prize for Poetry. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in the same year.
Books by R.S. Thomas