R.S. Thomas’s Christmas Eve

Poet R.S. Thomas 1994

R.S. Thomas in 1994

One of my favorite R. S. Thomas quips is: “There always have been / queues of the imaginatively unemployed.”

My grandson Colin is not queued up. When he reads, his imagination is so fully employed that he’s oblivious to neighboring reality. And when you ask him about the story, he lives what he retells.

In another poem, Thomas calls this “celebrating the sacrament / of the imagination.”

Thomas leads into his sacramental celebration by writing about Christmas Eves when he . . .

. . . walked up hill lanes to take a present of home-made cakes to a bedridden farmer. . . . The air cold and clear, the ash trees bone-white against the sky. A friendly stream of warm light flowing  from the farm window, and above, the shrill harshness of the stars. And if a fox barked, it was a  merry sound, for on such a Christmas Eve one could believe with Thomas Hardy’s peasant in ‘The  Oxen’ [1915] that all the beasts were kneeling:

CHRISTMAS EVE, and twelve of the clock.

                ‘Now they are all on their knees,’

An elder said as we sat in a flock

                By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictures the meek mild creatures where

                They dwelt in their strawy pen,

Nor did it occur to one of us there

                To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave

                In these years! Yet I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve,

                ‘Come; see the oxen kneel

‘In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

                Our childhood used to know,’

I should go with him in the gloom,

                Hoping it might be so.

“’Hoping it might be so’!” Thomas exclaims.

“But it is so.”

Poetry and prose of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:

“There always have been” – “Parables,” No Truce with the Furies, 20.

“celebrating the sacrament” – “Homage to Wallace Stevens,” No Truce with the Furies, 62.

“walked up hill lanes” – “The Qualities of Christmas,” R. S. Thomas: Selected Prose, 46.

“CHRISTMAS EVE, and twelve of the clock” – “The Oxen,” Thomas Hardy, The Complete Poems, no. 403, p. 468.


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