The Minister by R. S. Thomas

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 29 March 2013
To celebrate the centenary of R. S. Thomas' birth, BBC Radio 4 broadcast The Minister, his 1952 verse drama examining the reality of a ministry under a sky darkened by "the blood of God."  Despite his best efforts, nature shows little or no regard for the minister's work in trying to preach to men with "racked hearts" who are hidebound by old-fashioned (and often constricting) religious tradition.  Not that the citizens show any animosity towards the preacher as they dutifully fill the pews each Sunday.  Rather they are victims of religious rituals devoid of passion.  There is more liveliness in "the wind's text" than in a whole slew of prayers prescribed by the Bible.
The Minister talks harshly about Protestantism, "the bitter negation/ Of song and dance and the heart's innocent joy," as well as the force often preventing rather than facilitating communication with the deity. It is the religious counterpart of the church building, whose manse "smelled of mould, someone had broken a window/ During my absence and let a bird in."  The poem represents a journey beyond these corporeal things towards a rediscovery of the true purpose of religion - not just Christianity, but all religions.
As I listened to the poem, vividly narrated by Sian Phillips with a three-strong cast (Richard Lynch, Ifan Huw Dafydd, Rebecca Killick), I felt that R. S. Thomas was inviting us to look beneath the spoken word to the emotion lurking underneath.  If religion consists of looking beyond the ritual to rediscover the emotional aspects of communicating with one's deity, poetry serves a similar purpose.  It encourages us to listen to the verbal music; to look beyond language simply as a means of communication and enjoy its subliminal power. Alison Hindell's production was quite simply wonderful - a vivid celebration of a poet possessing a strong sense of place and those inhabiting it.