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.