Gestures and Challenges

  • D. Z. Phillips


R. S. Thomas was ordained in the Church in Wales in 1937 and took up his first country living as Rector of Manafon in Montgomeryshire. It was there that he brought out The Stones of the Field (1946) and An Acre of Land (1952), two of the works to be collected later in Song at the Year’s Turning (1955). As Moelwyn Merchant has argued, these works ’set the main lines of his creativity for the succeeding twenty years’.1 But what do these main lines amount to? From the beginning, they have to do with the mediation of sense and, in particular, religious sense, in human life. As we have already seen, according to one powerful tradition in philosophy, such mediation depends on finding order and purpose in human life. We have no direct proof of God’s existence, but we do have evidence of his existence in his works. We are surrounded by order and design. People have always found these assumptions problematic. The most powerful attack on them in philosophical literature is found in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. We cannot infer more of God’s character than the evidence allows and, with all the religious good will in the world, he seems to be at best capricious. Calling God ‘good’ by inference from what we see around us, seems to go beyond what the facts allow.


Wrong Attitude Black Book Religious Sense Powerful Attack Total Acceptance 
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  1. 1.
    W. Moelwyn Merchant, R. S. Thomas, Writers of Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1979) p. 3.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    For a perceptive analysis ‘of evasion, of self deception, of romantic posturing’ in the poem see James A. Davies, ‘Participating Readers: Three Poems by R. S. Thomas’, Poetry Wales, >XVIII, no. 4 (1983).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society (London: Faber and Faber, 1982) pp. 80–1.Google Scholar

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© D. Z. Phillips 1986

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