Queer Places:
St. Johns Churchyard Porthmadog, Gwynedd, Wales

Portrait of Ronald Stuart Thomas by Christopher Barker on artnetRonald Stuart Thomas (29 March 1913 – 25 September 2000), published as R. S. Thomas, was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest noted for his nationalism, spirituality and dislike of the anglicisation of Wales. John Betjeman, in the introduction to Song at the Year's Turning (1955), the first collection of Thomas's poetry from a major publisher, predicted that Thomas would be remembered long after he himself was forgotten. M. Wynn Thomas said: "He was the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Wales because he was such a troubler of the Welsh conscience. He was one of the major English language and European poets of the 20th century."[1][2] In 1931 Glyn Simon became warden of the Church Hostel at Bangor; the poet R. S. Thomas was a resident student there in 1932, and touchingly, would go on addressing Simon as "Dear Warden" in letters to him even when he was Archbishop.

R. S. Thomas was born in Cardiff as the only child of Margaret Davies and Thomas Hubert Thomas.[3] The family moved to Holyhead in 1918 because of his father's work in the Merchant Navy. He was awarded a bursary in 1932 to study at the University College of North Wales, where he read Latin. In 1936, after he completed his theological training at St Michael's College, Llandaff, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican 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-in charge of Tallarn Green, Flintshire, as part of his duties as curate of Hanmer. In Hanmer he was an assistant to the Rev. Thomas Meredith-Morris, grandfather of the writer Lorna Sage, a fact later described by Byron Rogers as a "crossing of paths of two of Wales's strangest clergymen". Whilst Sage devotes a great deal of her autobiography Bad Blood to her late relative, she does not mention Thomas, who was in any case in Hanmer before Sage was born. However, her memoir gives some insight into the strange environment in which Thomas worked as a young priest.[4] Thomas never wrote much about his curacies and nothing is known of the relationship between him and Meredith-Morris.[5] Thomas and Eldridge were married in 1940 and remained together until her death in 1991. Their son, (Andreas) Gwydion, was born on 29 August 1945 and died on 15 September 2016.[6] Gwydion often spoke about his difficult upbringing with a family living in near poverty, while he was sent to a number of traumatic boarding schools.[7] The Thomas family lived on a tiny income and lacked the comforts of modern life, largely through their own choice. One of the few household amenities the family ever owned, a vacuum cleaner, was rejected because Thomas decided it was too noisy.[8] From 1942 to 1954 Thomas was rector of St Michael's Church, Manafon, near Welshpool in rural Montgomeryshire. During his time there he began to study Welsh and published his first three volumes of poetry, The Stones of the Field (1946), An Acre of Land (1952) and The Minister (1953). Thomas's poetry achieved a breakthrough with the publication in 1955 of his fourth book, Song at the Year's Turning, in effect a collected edition of his first three volumes. This was critically well received and opened with an introduction by Betjeman. His position was also helped by winning the Royal Society of Literature's Heinemann Award. Thomas learnt the Welsh language from the age of 30,[8] – too late in life, he said, to be able to write poetry in it. The 1960s saw him working in a predominantly Welsh-speaking community and he later wrote two prose works in Welsh, Neb (Nobody), an ironic and revealing autobiography written in the third person, and Blwyddyn yn Llŷn (A Year in Llŷn). In 1964 he won the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. From 1967 to 1978 he was vicar of St Hywyn's Church (built 1137) in Aberdaron at the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. Thomas retired as a clergyman in 1978. He and his wife moved to Y Rhiw,[9] into "a tiny, unheated cottage in one of the most beautiful parts of Wales, where, however, the temperature sometimes dipped below freezing," according to Theodore Dalrymple.[8] Free from church constraints, he was able to become more political and active in campaigns that were important to him. He became a fierce advocate of Welsh nationalism, although he never supported Plaid Cymru, as it recognised the English Parliament and so in his view fell short in its opposition to England.[10] Thomas was nominated for the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature,[11] the winner of which was Wislawa Szymborska. He received the 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement.[12] Thomas died on 25 September 2000 aged 87, at his home in Pentrefelin near Criccieth, survived by his second wife, Elizabeth Vernon.[10] He had been ill with a heart condition and treated at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor until two weeks before he died.[13][14] A memorial event celebrating his life and poetry was held at Westminster Abbey with readings from Heaney, Andrew Motion, Gillian Clarke and John Burnside. Thomas's ashes are buried near the door of St John's Church, Porthmadog, Gwynedd.


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