In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section R. S. Thomas

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • (Auto)Biographies
  • Correspondence
  • Interviews
  • Introductory Critical Works
  • Prose Works
  • Archival Material

British and Irish Literature R. S. Thomas
Damian Walford Davies
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0058


R. S. Thomas is acknowledged as Wales’s most distinguished anglophone poet of the second half of the 20th century. He is also recognized as one of the century’s most challenging religious poets, who explored the very limits of faith and doubt in a world of technological advancement and global capitalism. From the late 1970s—by which time he had developed a pared-down (anti-) lyricism that distinguished him from that other Thomas, Dylan—he became an icon, testing (and teasing) his nation by reflecting its contradictions back to itself. Born in Cardiff and raised in Holyhead, Anglesey, he experienced a bourgeois, anglicized upbringing that denied him the Welsh language. He spent his life seeking to repair what he saw as a cultural lack. As a young curate of the Anglican Church in Wales, Thomas married the gifted artist Mildred E. Eldridge in 1940; the complex dynamics of their symbiotic relationship is a major foundation of the poetry. In 1942 Thomas became rector of Manafon, Montgomeryshire, where he set about learning Welsh. It was here that he established the distinctive pitch of his lyric voice in poems dealing with his priestly responsibilities, the dark interiorities of his “frontierland” parishioners, the “hyphenization” of his own identity, and—through the celebrated persona of the hill farmer, Iago Prytherch—his own spiritual and social preconceptions. His trajectory westward, which had the logic of a cultural and metaphysical quest, began in 1954 with a move to Eglwys-fach, Cardiganshire. It was here that he extended his dissection of rural Wales into a strident interrogation of what he regarded as his nation’s chronic flaws. In 1967 he became vicar of the Welsh-speaking parish of Aberdaron, at the tip of the Llŷn peninsula. Furiously contemporary in his engagement with both theoretical science and technology, Thomas now pushed his project into post-Christian territory. In metaphysical poetry of intense drama and speculation, he wrestled with a defiantly absent god. After retiring in 1978, he produced innovative examinations of, and metacommentaries on, the self in Welsh prose and English poetry whose prime resources are dramatic counterpointing, irony, and dialectic. Following his wife’s death in 1991, he produced a body of diaphanous elegies. A recipient of numerous awards, Thomas was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. The career is thoughtfully represented in the Selected Poems published in 2003; the choices are the poet’s own. The achievement of the final decade is most fruitfully encountered in his Collected Later Poems, 1988–2000 (2004).


A complete bibliography of R. S. Thomas’s published works will not be possible until the Uncollected Poems, currently in preparation, appears. A Complete Poems is planned. Anstey 1980 and Harris 1994 together offer inventories of the poetry up to 1993, as Harris 1994, Anstey 1995, and Walford Davies 2009 do for the published prose works up to the poet’s death. Anstey 1992, Harris 1994, Brown 1995–2007, Gramich 2008–, and Walford Davies 2009 collectively offer an inclusive list of critical writings up to 2003.

  • Anstey, Sandra. “A Bibliography of the Poetry of R. S. Thomas.” PhD diss., University College, Swansea, 1980.

    Section 1 of Part 2 of this thesis consists of “an alphabetical list of 606 poems by R. S. Thomas” up to and including 1978. In Section 2, each poem appears “under the year and title of its first appearance as provided in the alphabetical list.”

  • Anstey, Sandra, ed. Critical Writings on R. S. Thomas. 2d rev. ed. Bridgend, Wales: Seren, 1992.

    Contains a bibliography of critical work on Thomas, excluding material “not available in a published form.”

  • Anstey, Sandra, ed. R. S. Thomas: Selected Prose. 3d ed. Bridgend, Wales: Seren, 1995.

    Contains a bibliography of Thomas’s prose works up to 1993, including items not in Harris 1994.

  • Brown, Tony, ed. Welsh Writing in English: A Yearbook of Critical Essays. Vols. 1–11, 1995–2007.

    Each issue of the journal contains a bibliography of criticism, arranged by author. Starting with Volume 12, the journal has been titled Almanac: Yearbook of Welsh Writing in English (see Gramich 2008–).

  • Gramich, Katie, ed. Almanac: Yearbook of Welsh Writing in English. Vol. 12–, 2008–.

    Each issue of the journal contains a bibliography of criticism, arranged by author.

  • Harris, John. A Bibliographical Guide to Twenty-Four Modern Anglo-Welsh Writers. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994.

    Includes publications (prose and verse) by R. S. Thomas (including “selected contributions to books and periodicals”), together with a list of critical work (including research theses) up to 1993.

  • Walford Davies, Damian, ed. Echoes to the Amen: Essays after R. S. Thomas. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009.

    Two post-1994 prose works by Thomas, not in the other publications cited here, are listed in the bibliography, together with select critical work up to 2003.

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