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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
RS Thomas - Wales' s outspoken poet
Poet RS Thomas
RS Thomas - one of Wales's finest poets
RS Thomas, who has died at the age of 87, was widely regarded as the best religious poet of his time, although his verse covered a wide range of themes.

During a writing career which spanned 50 years he wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry.

Among the many literary accolades, he received were a recent Nobel prize nomination and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.

But he will also be remembered as a fervent Welsh patriot, and an outspoken campaigner over issues such as the Welsh language, holiday homes and nuclear disarmament.

Ronald Stuart Thomas was born in Cardiff in 1913, the son of a sea captain.

My chief aim is to make a poem . You make it for yourself firstly, and then if other people want to join in... then there we are.

RS Thomas

He graduated from Bangor University and received his theological training in Llandaff, Cardiff and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1936, serving his first curacies in north east Wales.

It was after he was appointed rector of the rural parish of Manafon in Powys during the Second World War that he wrote his first three volumes of verse, introducing what were to become his hallmark themes - nature, Welsh history and the lives of country people.

Early in his ministry, he discovered Wales to be his spiritual home and he set about learning Welsh, although by this time he had already found his voice as an English-language poet.

Autobiography of 'Nobody'

English remained the language of his poetry, although he did produce several prose works in Welsh, including his enigmatic 1985 autobiography which was written in the third person. It was entitled "Neb", which means "Nobody".

He was also a self-confessed Welsh republican, with outspoken views.

He believed in the cause of the Welsh language, because he said the nation had little else in terms of culture. He was sceptical about whether Welsh identity could be experienced through English.

"There is no such thing as an Anglo have to make a stand, and that is the stand I have chosen to make," he said.

Row over arson campaign

It was a stand which alienated many people in Wales, and which many of his strongest admirers in Wales found difficult to support.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, he was at the centre of a highly public row when he publically praised the arsonists who firebombed English-owned holiday homes in Wales, when he claimed that English speakers were destroying the Welsh language and culture.

Despite being vocal on some political issues, he was personally a very retiring man, happiest while living in remote rural areas where he could pursue his favourite hobby of birdwatching.

RS Thomas
RS Thomas worked all his life in rural parishes
He spent his working life as a clergyman in parishes in rural Wales, and wrote about faith, nature, the Welsh countryside and the landscapes within.

He said that while most clergyman disliked being out in the countryside, he relished the opportunity.

"I suppose I've been chosen along with other people to receive a revelation via nature," RS Thomas said in a rare interview for BBC Wales.

"I feel I more able to be religious and to worship in the countryside than I would in the town."

Llandaff theological college, Cardiff
Llandaff theological college where he trained for the ministry

"My chief aim is to make a poem. You make it for yourself firstly, and then if other people want to join in then there we are."

"I don't write for the public. I don't envisage the public."

1n 1964 he was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and more recently he was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature.

After his retirement in 1978, RS Thomas lived at Rhiw on the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales, close to his last parish of Aberdaron.

Eager audience

His first wife Elsi died in 1991 after 51 years of marriage. They had a son, Gwydion. His second wife Betty survives him.

In 1993 his Collected Poems were published and last year he brought out his poetry collection on CD, reluctantly acknowledging that there was an eager audience for his work.

One of his last interviews was to BBC Wales in July, marking him being awarded a medal by the London based Honourable Society of the Cymrodorion for his outstanding contribution to Welsh life.

He was as outspoken as ever, saying that he was not confident that the National Assembly would deliver to the people of Wales.

His stature as a writer in Wales is often determined by his stance on Welsh political issues, but beyond the boundaries of his homeland, it is primarily the quality of his religious poetry that secures his international standing.

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26 Sep 00 | Wales
Poet RS Thomas dies
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