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
The first stanza of this poem conveys to me the forlorn sense of loss and hopelessness of Good Friday and Easter Saturday. I once heard a preacher say that most of us live, not in the anguish of the Good Fridays of our lives, nor in the glory and revelations of Easter Sunday, but in the humdrum pain of Easter Saturday, where there is “no word” and only “dry whispers” of “bats, not angels.”
R.S. Thomas was clearly familiar with the experience of the spiritual dry season, but also with the revelation won through vigil. The vision of Christ on the cross at the end of the poem is remarkable because it captures the intensity of Good Friday and the glory of Easter Saturday. The dark crown of thorns is “blazing”, a beautiful intense image of passion and holiness as well as pain and suffering. As in medieval literature, the cross becomes a tree- “golden with fruit of a man’s body”. This line not only identifies Christ as the second Adam who redeems man’s fall, but has connotations of splendor, the life giving fruit of the cross replacing the death dealing fruit of Eden.