Best R.S. Thomas Poems: “January” from Song at the Year’s Turning (1955)

RS Thomas Song at the Year's TurningTo celebrate my first birthday as a blogger, I’m giving myself a challenge.

Ever since my first post, on March 5, 2013, I’ve been writing in general about R. S. Thomas and his poetry. Often selecting a theme and encircling it with quotes from a number of his poems.

In the future, each post will feature one poem, and I’ll say why I think it’s one of Thomas’s best. From time to time, I’ll pick a book and give my reasons for numbering it among his top five. Laboratories of the Spirit (1975) is certain to be on that list.

There will be poems in five categories: Thomas himself, nature, people, love, and God. With a limit of eight poems in each group.

To begin: one of Thomas’s best poems about nature – “January.”

The fox drags its wounded belly
Over the snow, the crimson seeds
Of blood burst with a mild explosion,
Soft as excrement, bold as roses.

Over the snow that feels no pity,
Whose white hands can give no healing,
The fox drags its wounded belly.

“January” introduced me to the Thomas’s poetry.

In was sometime in 1973, and I was reading the Saturday Review, the then premier journal of literature in the United States, edited for three decades by Norman Cousins. The issue at hand contained an article about a recently published collection of poems by someone called R. S. Thomas.


The writer of the review article quoted “January,” and something about it appealed to my Robert Frost training.

A decade of reading Frost’s poems had sensitized me to the deceptive simplicity of his poetry of nature. After a first reading, I’d say, “A watercolor landscape, painted with words.” More readings, and I’d be saying, “This wily New England ‘farmer,’ who was born in San Francisco, has plowed his philosophy of nature into this poem.” Later, “There’s a question about transcendence sprouting here.”

My thinking moved through the same stages as I read Thomas’s “January.”

Certainly, I concluded, it was worth ordering the reviewed book: Selected Poems 1946-1968. Since then, of the ordering of Thomas books, there has been no end.

Amazon, both US and UK, with its finger on the pulse of shoppers, alerts me to every new RST title. In fact, the other day, Amazon recommended, based on my buying record, A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief: R. S. Thomas and His Poetry by John G. McEllhenney.

Amazon’s computer, with all its dumbfounding apps, failed to notice that it was urging me to buy my own book.

For the shortcomings of computers, I give thanks. Perhaps there’s a future for the human mind after all.

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

“January,” Song at the Year’s Turning [1955], 107.


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