RS Thomas was a poet of genius. But he was an idiosyncratic parish priest. That's a kind way of saying he displayed few of the pastoral or human qualities you'd expect to see in a priest.
Byron Rogers' biography of RS Thomas, The man who went into the west, is one of the finest biographies I have ever read: 315 pages of pure delight. Rogers explores the contradictions deep within this extraordinary character: the champion of the Welsh language who failed to teach his son yr hen iaith; the Welsh nationalist who was most comfortable amongst the English middle classes.
Rogers quotes RS's son, Gwydion, at length. Most readers will feel huge sympathy for Gwydion, who suddenly found himself sent away to an English boarding school at the age of eight. His father later told him: "If you hadn't gone away we wouldn't have had the time to write and paint". I don't imagine that helped this father and son relationship.
It's easy to dismiss such heartlessness, and other examples of RS Thomas's lack of human touch. (His most significant comment to Elizabeth Taylor was: "Have you tried plaice?") Yet Rogers quotes many examples of parishioners who were comforted by his rather gruff form of human kindness. I was left with the feeling that this talented poet was blighted by shyness and a romantic, rather than practical, view of his nation.
Seven years ago I read RS Thomas's Welsh language autobiography, Neb as I prepared to sit my Welsh for Adults A level exam, Defnyddio'r Gymraeg Uwch. The review that foilows reflects my view of the greatest living English language Welsh poet just months before his death.