January

January

 

The fox drags its wounded belly

Over the snow, the crimson seeds

Of blood burst with a mild explosion

Soft as excrement, bold as roses.

 

Over the snow that feels no pity,

Whose white hands can give no healing,

The fox drags its wounded belly.

 

By R.S. Thomas, from The Bloodaxe Book of 20th Century Poetry, Bloodaxe Books, Northumberland

The Anglo-Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas, an Anglican Priest from Cardiff, was known to many as a religious poet, his poetry gleaning hints of a divine presence in the Welsh countryside, but we’re hard pressed to find spiritual succor or comfort in this poem. It seems to present a world without the providence and mercy of God, a nature in which death is comfortless and stark, closer to the harsh bloody nature poetry of Hughes – whose universe is chaotic and mechanistic, suffused with seemingly meaningless suffering – even if, as here, it can be a source of unexpected beauty.

But then, religious poetry, if it is to evoke true spiritual feelings, cannot always be positive and certain. For Thomas, the world is sometimes divested of God’s mercy and grace. The very mention of snow that ‘feels no pity’ whose hands ‘give no healing evokes a yearning for the benevolent God of Thomas’s faith.

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