The Collected Late Poems opens with The Echoes Return Slow, a collection of autobiographical poems in which the poet's own life is source and resource for some of his most searing questions and searching observations; at times Thomas writes a line, apparently incidental, an explanatory observation, only the reader hears it as an inner interrogation. Always the questioning, spirituality in the interrogative mood, an intellectual grappling with the world that doesn't depend upon, indeed is impatient with, that favoured word of our own times, "closure". Indeed for Thomas the idea of the pilgrimage is defining, the journey is from here to there and from loneliness to companionship, and the important and life-giving disposition is movement towards rather than arrival, longing rather than terminus, opening up to more possibility rather than the lid snap of a complacent closure.
So in these autobiographical prose paragraphs and line poems, the poet looks to his future as an old man, by seeking clues in his past. These are deeply personal, private and guarded poems; suggestive rather than illustrative, oblique in their references but together a series of snapshots which capture more of Thomas and his quest and questions than any 24/7 cctv would ever record. This is I think why I find Thomas's poetry so satisfying and unsettling, so true and so real but not with easy truth or reality reduced to the bearable.
The poem in which he recalls his own ordination is a study in pastoral frankness; the inadequacy and limits of any human being when faced with grieving parents, bereaved widows, hopeful marriages and faces on a Sunday reflecting the diversity and fragility of human hopes. The prose poem reduces the high calling to be Christ's vicar to local contesxt - "this valley, this village and a church built with stones from the river..." A lesson in reality awaits every Christian minister of whatever denominational hue, in this poem of confessed inadequacy. "The young man was sent unprepared to expose his ignorance of life in a leafless pulpit."