Vol I No. 7
All Saints

The Absence of God

by Sydney Nicole Thomas

The Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) has been recognized for his profound religious observations thrown into relief by the turbulent events of the twentieth century. Thomas’s poetry is marked by political and spiritual struggle; as David Anderson has explained at Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, his work “is not easily orthodox or pretty.” Anderson writes:

Thomas is mostly interested in God’s silence or absence, the deus absconditus or hidden God, and what that means for forging an identity in the modern world. What language might be used to address such a God in a meaningful way? As Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written, R.S. Thomas was—like one of the poet’s spiritual mentors, Soren Kierkegaard—a “great articulator of uneasy faith.”

In beginning the Collected Poems: 1945-1990, I noticed two which are fitting in the approaching season of Lent. They are reproduced below, as an introduction of sorts to the poetry of R.S. Thomas.

“In a Country Church”

To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.

Was he balked by silence?  He kneeled long,
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

From Collected Poems: 1945-1990, 1955

“The Absence”

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 resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

From Collected Poems: 1945-1990, 1978

What does the second poem share with Simone Weil’s idea of the absence of God?

H/T Edward Rix