Finding where the cuckoos sing: R. S. Thomas and the poiesis of birdwatching
AuthorQuine, Joseph Allen
AffiliationSchool of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2019 Joseph Allen Quine
This ecocritical study explores the poetry and prose of R. S. Thomas through the lens of his prolific career as a birdwatcher. This focus reveals a surprising unity in the way that Thomas uses birds in his poetry, and the way that birds and birdwatching inform his thinking and its significance in today’s cultural moment of ecological concern. In particular, while Thomas is usually studied within the context of his two competing careers as a Welsh nationalist poet writing in English, and an Anglican priest of the Church in Wales, the third – birdwatching – perhaps gets closest to the hermitic, self-proclaimed “nature mystic” and his enduring, spiritual connection to the Welsh landscape. Birdwatching is central to Thomas’s identity as a Welsh bard and priest; it is the calling that ties together his other vocations and poetic themes. Thomas’s interrelated thought and poetry is explored through what this thesis calls the “poiesis of birdwatching,” which reflects the essential eco-spiritual unity or “dwelling” for which Thomas strives. These terms are drawn from the work of Martin Heidegger, and they evoke the way that birds and birdwatching are caught up in – functioning almost as a kind of conceit for – Thomas’s encouragement of a way of seeing and being in which entities (birds, nature, the earth) reveal their unconcealed being and the unity of being. This stands against the way that for Heidegger, as for Thomas, modern technology conceals and enframes the natural world, interrupting that underlying unity and threatening the very ground of being. For Thomas, the “Machine” – and its capitalist, imperialist counterpart “England” – is a cultural, spiritual, and ultimately ecological threat. In this regard, the poiesis of birdwatching is also fundamentally active – and hence activist. It is a politicized way in which Thomas unites issues of nation and spirituality under an ecological banner.
KeywordsR. S. Thomas; R.S. Thomas; Ronald Stuart Thomas; Birdwatching; Poetry; Poetics; Ecopoetics; Ecocriticism; Birds; Martin Heidegger; Poiesis; Welsh poetry; Welsh Literature; Welsh Writing in English; British Literature; British Poetry; Anglo-Welsh Literature
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