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This review is taken from PN Review 203, Volume 38 Number 3, January - February 2012.

INTRICACIES OF CRAFT DANIEL WESTOVER, R.S. Thomas: A Stylistic Biography (University of Wales Press) £24.99

For the R.S. Thomas special number of Poetry Wales (Spring 1972) I wrote a brief note on a group of poems from Pietà. My introductory remarks included the following, 'it ... appears from the bulk of his work that [Thomas] has an under-developed sense of form. There is no rhyme in any of the four poems we are about to consider ... no syllabic consistency ... no observable pattern of stress. Occasionally one wonders what logic of sound or sense prompts him to break a line at a particular point.' It was a surprise to find that quoted in Westover's book. How (relatively) youthful judgements come back to haunt one! But I was not alone in this misconception. Movement poets seemed fairly unanimous in their failure to appreciate Thomas's stylistic modernism. That Kingsley Amis and Larkin were indifferent to or scathing about his mature work is no surprise, but the severity of John Wain and Donald Davie specifically in relation to his poetic technique is another matter. Westover's thesis is that Thomas was a conscious and painstaking stylist and that 'Without a prosody that demands attention, the poems would not affect the reader as they do'.

Stages in the poet's stylistic development coincide, more or less, with stages in the route from northeast Wales to the far northwest in his ministry as a priest. About midway the most significant changes occurred. At the beginning he was creatively hobbled by the 'sweet lyricism' of his Romantic/Victorian/Georgian precursors, broke ...


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