The two poems by R. S.
Thomas, ‘In Church’ and ‘The Belfry’, express Thomas’s feelings about religion, which is a very important aspect of his life, being a minister. The poem ‘In Church’ depicts his failing faith in Christianity, ‘testing his faith, on emptiness, nailing his questions one by one to an untenanted cross’. The use of the word ‘untenanted’ tells us that Jesus is absent from the cross, a symbolic representation of his faith. He is ‘nailing’ his questions ‘to the cross’ in the way Jesus was nailed to the cross, this metaphor shows that he is questioning and testing his faith.He is also ‘testing his faith on emptiness,’ which emphasises the physical emptiness of the church and also emptiness in terms of his faith. This ’emptiness’ creates a sense of unease, which is felt continually throughout the poem. The church had been disturbed by a service, ‘the air recomposing itself,’ and ‘Shadows advance From their corners to take possession Of the places the light held For an hour. ‘ The shadows are dark and suggest an evil presence in the church, which disturbs us.
The use of the word ‘possession’ tells us that it is theirs to occupy and the fact that the light only held it for an hour makes us feel threatened, that we are not safe in the church. This could also be seen as a metaphor, the light being God and the shadows being evil or a cloud of doubt, showing that the cloud is overcoming his faith, and that evil has become dominant. This image is repeated when ‘the bats resume their business’. The word ‘resume’ suggests that this is common, the bats had only paused from their business during the service.Throughout many of R.
S. Thomas’s poems, he uses the technique of starting new lines mid-sentence to emphasise a word or a point, ‘Often I try To analyse the quality Of it’s silences. ‘ In this quote, ‘try’ and ‘quality’ are emphasised, he can only ‘try’ to analyse it’s ‘quality’. He could mean that it’s silences are of such high quality that he cannot grasp it, or he could mean that he cannot assess whether it is a virtuous silence to contemplate with in or a misleading silence in that it causes him to contemplate the validity of his religion.He uses this technique again, but this time to link a question to a hidden answer, Is this where God hides From my searchings? I have stopped to listen To the air recomposing itself For vigil.
‘ Because ‘stopped to listen’ is on the same line as the question, it could be interpreted that he is listening for an answer. He then tells us the answer to his question, ‘To the air recomposing itself’. Because the sentence is separated, it can now have two meanings.
It could mean that he had listened for his answer in vain and found nothing. Despite his searching or ‘listening’ God is not there all he hears is the ‘air recomposing itself’.Then we read the next line ‘for vigil’ and there is another meaning, it could simply mean that he is listening to the ‘air recomposing itself for vigil’, and nothing else. This is the meaning we initially grasp when we first read it, which is why the answer to his question of faith is cleverly hidden. The decline of his religion is emphasised, with ‘After the few people have gone’ where the word ‘few’ tells us that his congregation is very small, and now that they have ‘gone’ it is almost as if they have deserted him. The church is described as, ‘These are the hard ribsOf a body that our prayers have failed To animate.
‘ This metaphor tells us that we are like the organs of a body and it is essential that we pray to maintain the Christian religion, the lack of our prayers has caused the religion to die. The use of the word ‘hard’ re-instates the unpleasant, harsh feelings that are felt throughout the poem. An emphasis is put up on these unpleasant feelings in the lines ‘it has waited like this since the stones grouped themselves about it’. We feel that the air or atmosphere situated at the site of the church is an actual entity that has not changed for centuries.This entity is stagnant and archaic making it a morbid and desolate place. The fact that the stones grouped ‘themselves’ around it backs up that it is a specific atmosphere chosen by the stones. The second poem ‘The Belfry’ immediately poses morbid feelings of coldness and hardness.
He describes the belfry as ‘grey, gaunt’. Grey is a cold, dull colour, and it’s gauntness gives the impression of a thin belfry that is looming above our heads. We get a sense of monotony and dullness through the dull ‘grey’ colour and the use of alliteration on the letter G, ‘grey, gaunt’.This description may also be reflecting himself. This would also add a sense of age or ancientness to the belfry.
He states that ‘no sunlight could ever thaw out the music of it’s great bell’. The word ‘thaw’ suggests that the church is freezing, and the bell’s ‘music’ is cold and solid, reflecting his feelings toward his religion being cold and harsh. We get a feeling that this belfry is very dominant from the words ‘great’ and ‘standing up’, a sense of fear is felt, again showing the way he feels or the way he sees religion.
This fear is emphasised by the word ‘terrible’. The way in which ‘terrible’ is set out in the poem amplifies the feeling even more, ‘Of it’s great bell; terrible In it’s own way, for religion Is like that. ‘ ‘Terrible’ is separated from the rest of the words in two ways, making it an important adjective. The semi-colon separates it from the words on its line and Thomas uses the technique again of starting a new line mid-sentence to emphasise the word. Thomas has used this whole description as a simile to describe religion.He has effectively achieved feelings of harshness, coldness and terror by means of description, and then tells us that this is what religion is like, proving to be an extremely effective means of showing us his feelings. A repition of the dullness and coldness is felt again describing a person’s situation, one that he has obviously been in, ‘When a black frost is upon one’s whole being’.
‘Black’ and ‘Frost’ are the words in effect here, emphasising the freezing and hardness of the poem. Like in the poem ‘In Church’, Thomas has used a metaphor comparing a human body and a church, ‘and the heartIn it’s bone belfry hangs and is dumb. ‘ The metaphor suggests that a rib cage is like a belfry and the heart like a bell. The heart is hanging ‘dumb’, this means that his heart is silent and suggests a lack of emotions, emphasising again a hardness and insensitivity. ‘Bone’ again will suggest a hardness about the church. The second verse of the poem starts with the word ‘But’, signifying a change in mood. The previous verse was pessimistic, focusing on a lack of hope and an emptiness relating to religion. Now, the second verse offers a glimpse of hope and faith through religion.
By using the phrase ‘But who is to know’, he is saying that maybe there is an alternative perspective to religion. Again, Thomas uses the technique of taking new lines mid-sentence, to emphasise the words ‘Always’ and ‘Even’, ‘But who is to know? Always, Even in winter in the cold’. This emphasises the certainty of this new perspective that is ‘always’ there and exists. He says, even though we see and feel the ‘cold’ of the ‘stone church’, there is always a hope inside. Thomas uses a metaphor, showing us that although it is hard to connect with God, your prayers will always come through, Who’s prayers fall Steadily through the hard spell Of weather that is between God And himself’.
This continues the theme of cold, hard weather or winter. The phrase ‘hard spell’ may refer to a time when a person feels lost or deserted by God, or that their prayers are unanswered. The next lines tell us that through the persistence of the praying person there is hope. ‘Perhaps they are warm rain That brings the sun and afterwards flowers’. The sun and flowers are metaphors of hope and the warm rain represents his prayers.
He then says that the flowers grow on the ‘raw graves’.These ‘raw’ graves are metaphors of his doubt in God or his time of being deserted by God, and now the flowers of hope are growing over it to cover or fill the rawness. The poem ends with ‘The throbbing of bells’, which continues from the previous metaphor where the church bell is likened to his heart, which was ‘hanging dumb’ symbolising his emptiness and lack of faith. Now it is ‘throbbing’ telling us that it is alive again and his faith has been restored. He uses the word ‘throbbing’ to remind us of the metaphor since hearts throb. Both of the poems discuss the decline of the Christian religion. In Church’ focuses in on his own personal failing faith, whereas ‘The Belfry’ talks about everyone’s failing faith.
‘The Belfry’ also shows a different point of view as well, which has a brighter feeling. The ‘Belfry’ is described as ‘terrible’ and uses words like ‘black frost’.’In Church’, has ‘silences’ and is described as having ‘hard ribs’. Both poems generate feelings of silence, coldness and hardness in this way. The two poems both use metaphors relating to a human body, in ‘In Church’ it uses ‘these are the hard ribs of a body’. The Belfry’ uses the metaphor ‘the heart in it’s bone belfry’. The poem ‘In Church’ relates the church to a human body whereas the poem ‘The Belfry’ relates a churches belfry to a human body.
In the poem ‘In Church’ a man is ‘nailing his questions’ to a cross and in the poem ‘The Belfry’ there is a man quietly praying. When Thomas writes about the man ‘In Church’ we feel that he is actually reflecting his own feelings, whereas the man praying in ‘The Belfry’ is just referring to people typical of his congregation.