R. S. Thomas’s “Ninetieth Birthday” is a poem of two stanzas of unequal length written in free verse. The second stanza is further divided for emphasis, the seventh line beginning immediately below the end of the sixth line rather than at the left margin as do the other lines. The poem is written in the second person; though the speaker seems to be addressing another person, it is possible to read the poem as the speaker’s own memories or thoughts about an event. The poem describes a person going to visit an old woman, perhaps a mother or grandmother, on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday. The first stanza describes a walk up a steep hill on a midsummer day and does not indicate where the person is going or why the person is going up the hill. Instead, the stanza portrays the landscape: a road, probably dirt, on which it is better to walk than drive, a rocky hillside where trees give way to bracken, a distant view of the sea, and a small stream. The description is similar to those in other poems by Thomas set in the mountainous areas of Wales.
The second stanza moves from a description of the landscape to the description of an old woman waiting for her visitor at the top of the hill. The old woman “Waits for the news of the lost village/ She thinks she knows, a place that exists/ In her memory only,” which indicates that she rarely, if ever, leaves her farm and that the world has changed in ways of which she has no knowledge. This point is...
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