wwe1_75-127 - Welsh Writing in English: A Yearbook of...

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Welsh Writing in English: A Yearbook of Critical Essays Volume 1 (1995): 75-127 “Thick Ambush of Shadows”: Allusions to Welsh literature in the work of R.S. Thomas Jason Walford Davies University of Wales, Bangor We speak of presence and absence . . . Shout: NOTHING! It is completely meaningless. But shout: Abercuawg! and the echoes start to awake. (R.S. Thomas, Abercuawg , 1976) Here, don’t you start writing poems! or I shall have to buckle down to The influence of The Mabinogion on R.S. Thomas or something. (Philip Larkin, Selected Letters , 1992 ) (1) John Montague once accused R.S. Thomas of failing to acknowledge Iago Prytherch’s debt to the hero of Patrick Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger (1942). 1 The Welshman simply welcomed the comparison, linking as it did two personae in an honoured pastoral genre. It also linked two Celtic literatures, even if both were only “Anglo-something”. But much more influential for R.S. was Welsh literature. He had spoken up early for the “Anglo-Welsh”— claiming in 1946, for example, that “the mantle of writers like T. Gwynn Jones and W.J. Gruffydd is falling not upon the younger Welsh writers, but upon those of us who express ourselves in the English tongue”. 2 But his increasing knowledge of Welsh had even then opened a door on an inner identity. As early as 1946 the thirty—three-year-old Rector of Manafon could confidently lecture on Welsh literature. 3 By the 1950s that literature had become a major source of his own poetry, and this essay is an attempt to suggest both the range and detail of the impact. Even R.S.’s allusiveness to English literature is inadequately charted. An early uncollected poem quite obviously evokes Hopkins’s “The Starlight Night” (“Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies . . .”) even down to the use of the Virgin Mary and the image of quarrying: Look, look at the sky Above you, Where the keen winds Since dawn were busy Quarrying the dark clouds to find This virgin blue . . . 4 But his consistent allusions to, say, W.B. Yeats or T.S. Eliot are at their best with a lighter echo. In “Reservoirs”, for example: I have walked the shore For an hour and seen the English Scavenging among the remains Of our culture. ( NHBF , 26)
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The echo here of Yeats’s “A Prayer for My Daughter”—“I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour / And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower” 5 —channels into R.S.’s spleen in the face of English tourism the pain of Ireland’s Civil War. But what the Welsh allusions reflect, because they well from greater depths, is an inner civil war. R.S. once complained of the Welsh/English duality within him to Saunders Lewis, who replied that it was out of that clash that art was born. 6
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This note was uploaded on 10/02/2010 for the course CLGT ECO 123 taught by Professor Hehe during the Winter '10 term at Imperial College.

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wwe1_75-127 - Welsh Writing in English: A Yearbook of...

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