R.S. Thomas’s New Year’s Eve: Light a Candle, Welcome a Newborn

candleR. S. Thomas put a lighted candle in his window on New Year’s Eve and found a newborn at his door the next morning.

“This morning,” he writes,

. . . I discovered the newborn year on my doorstep, begging to be welcomed into the house. I hesitated a moment for fear of what might come in its wake. But it continued to plead until I picked it up, not out of pity, but because I had to.

Back in the late 1930s, when Thomas was a young curate, his vicar told him after the Christmas morning service to take a break for a few days from his parish duties. So he traveled to Ireland, “the country of which Yeats had sung, a land of common folk, their language Irish and their ways traditionally Celtic.”

On New Year’s Eve, when Thomas was in western Ireland, he went out with a girl “to see the hundreds of candles that had been lit in the window of every cottage and croft along the coast and the lakes as a sign that there was a welcome for every man and spirit that happened to be abroad at the year’s turning.”

“Later that year came the Munich crisis.”

And Thomas, back in his parish, listened to “hundreds of trains” going “past during the night on their way south, carrying weapons, no doubt, to defend England from an attack by the Germans.”

The attack came, of course – Chamberlain’s “piece of paper” was not worth the wood pulp it was made of – but Britain and Thomas survived to welcome many newborn years.

One New Year’s Day, in the late 1980s, Thomas watched as “two sparrowhawks above the trees of Ty’n-y-coed played as if they were already intent on mating. Just as I had to receive the new year into my house, so they, too, were having to respond to the call of life by showing that they were suited for mating and raising chicks for the continuation of their species.”

We, too, have to respond to life’s call. We have no option but to pick up the newborn we find on our doorstep on January 1, 2014.

But we are free to decide whether to light a candle on December 31st.

On New Year’s Eve, Thomas writes, “as a symbol of hope and expectation, I placed a candle in the window to welcome the newborn to our humble but hate-free home.”

A candle will burn in my window, but it will be attached, alas, to the power grid – Saint Corny by the Quarry denies its wrinklies the right to play with matches and candles.

Prose of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:

“This morning I discovered” – “A Year in Llŷn” Autobiographies, 113.

“the country of which Yeats had sung” – “No-One,” Autobiographies, 47-48.

“to see the hundreds of candles” – “No-One,” Autobiographies, 48.

“Later that year came the Munich crisis” – “No-One,” Autobiographies, 48.

“two sparrowhawks” – “A Year in Llŷn,” Autobiographies, 113.

“as a symbol of hope and expectation” – “A Year in Llŷn,” Autobiographies, 171.


4 thoughts on “R.S. Thomas’s New Year’s Eve: Light a Candle, Welcome a Newborn

    • Imagine looking across a mound of dirt and piles of storm-sewer pipes to the window in which my (electric) candle will be burning. Saint Corny by the Quarry is constructing a new apartment building not far from my study window. My view of a tall evergreen and several spring-flowering trees will remain unobstructed – Hallelujah!

      Thanks, Michael, for your encouragement.

  1. last night I lit the 9 candles on the corona before the altar at St Hywyn’s church, the corona that was gifted to the church by RS. I read to a small audience, ‘The moon in Llyn’, kneeling before the altar rail, below the corona, ” …….Here on my knees in this stone church, that is full only of the silent congregation of shadows and the sea’s sound,…..” I recall Peter’s recent blog, “poetry is …. most fully in the poem…….when we are reading [it] aloud. Then the poem is a heart beating in our chest, fulfilling the poet’s dream” I think RS would have enjoyed that moment by candlelight.

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