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‘To Make an End Is to Make a Beginning’: Verses for the New Year

‘To Make an End Is to Make a Beginning’: Verses for the New Year

Christmas brings us a feast of words and music: songs played 24/7 on some radio stations, classic literature like A Christmas Carol and “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” a stocking full of new children’s books every year along with the classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, films enough to watch every day from Advent throughout Christmastide. And that’s not to mention the ubiquitous Nutcracker performances, kids’ plays at churches and schools, and carolers strolling the corridors of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

But New Year’s … not so much. Not even close.

Most of us recognize the tune, if not all the words, to “Auld Lang Syne.”

Search online for “popular New Year’s songs,” however, and odds are you won’t recognize most of them. The same holds for films. You’ll know some of the titles, but you don’t associate many of them as specific to New Year’s Eve. Ditto for books, whether for adults or children. They exist, but again, most people have never heard of them, much less read them.

When compared to Christmas, New Year’s poetry is in the same boat. Ask someone to name a poem about the annual change of calendar, and some might mention “Auld Lang Syne,” which was a poem before gaining its current sung popularity. Some who were paying attention in their college literature classes might recollect Tennyson’s “Ring Out, Wild Bells” from his long “In Memoriam A.H.H.”:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

But there are some fine poems about the change of year that might serve us well as we say goodbye to 2023 and welcome, perhaps with a slight foreboding, 2024. Here’s “A Happy New Year,” a poem unfamiliar to me, but which bursts with hopes no doubt felt by most of us as 2024 approaches:

‘A happy new year’ it will be— if it’s new:
New visions of all that is noble and true,
New powers for service, new knowledge of God,
New zeal for the ways that the heroes have trod,
New comforts, new courage, new graces, new joys,
New peace where the evil assails or annoys,
New friendship, new helpers, new faith and new love,
New treasures on earth and new treasures above,
New wisdom, new glory, new health, and new cheer,
Nothing old, all things new, in the happy new year!

Hokey perhaps, but given the events of the last decade and more, I’m fine with hokey.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850–1919) is best known for this quatrain from her poem “Solitude”:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.

In “The Year,” Wilcox returns to laughter and weeping. Particularly striking is the line that fits our own time: “We know we dream, we dream we know.”

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

On a lighter note—though perhaps with a heads-up for the upcoming year of wars, primaries, elections, and whatever other catastrophes fate and our witless gurus send our way—is this one from Ogden Nash (1902–1971). The poem’s title, “Good Riddance, But Now What?” seems particularly apt for this year’s celebration.

Come, children, gather round my knee;
Something is about to be.

Tonight’s December thirty-first,
Something is about to burst.

The clock is crouching, dark and small,

Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark! It’s midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year.

In “Little Gidding,” T.S. Eliot writes these wise words:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

In a short time, we shall arrive at an end and a beginning, closing one book and opening another. To all you readers here at ITO, I wish you a good ending and a good beginning, and a blessed New Year!

Image credit: Pexels

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Jeff Minick
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3 Comments

  • Avatar
    Jon R, Parsons
    December 28, 2023, 4:05 pm

    Nice. And the near-closing of Little Gidding is the delicious:

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    REPLY
  • Avatar
    Tionico
    December 29, 2023, 2:56 am

    I have long thought part of the issue with New Year's and related celebretiona is that is is marked so closely with Christmas we've near celebreated and excited ourselves to quiet by the time the thirty frst rolls round.

    The Jews celebrated the start of the new year sometime i March/April, depending on the lunar phases, and when the equinox falls. Of ciurse they were off quite a ways in the number of days in a solar year, but they had a rather complicated and crude "fix" for that. . Romans I believe are the ones marking the new year i January, close to the solstice.

    But one thing is quite certain, though many here would disagree: The Lord's birth did NOT take place in the middle of winter. How could the shephers be out in the fields with their flocks if the true day were near the solstice? They would have been in the near-town sheepfolds on short rations for tbeir sheep. In the spring with the new grass, they were always out "keeping theor flocks in the fields" letting them get as mich roage as they could because the grass was rapidly growing and thus loaded with protein.

    I've seen some work recently that makes a very strong case for His birth to have fallen in September, in part based on some careful interpretation of the scriptures in both the gospel accounts of the birth and in the Revelation. Seems there are certain star signs that are described in those accounts that fit perfectly with the positions of certain stars in that year.

    O were we to shift our marking of Jesus' birth to eiterh the spring or the fall (both near the equinox) then we'd have some "breathing space" between marking the beginning if another year and marking the birth of our Saviour.

    I never have seen much to justify the big whoop=up at the change of the year. I see tme as far more linear than circular. Tuesday will surely follow on Monday, which most certainly will follow Sunday. I suppose there is some merit to the circular pattern meme.. if we all kept time linearly my daybook would now be about three feet thick,and a real pain to lug about!! So I'm fine with drawing a line next Monday evening, semi-retiring the current daybook and cracking open a new one tuesday morning.

    REPLY
  • Avatar
    jesous
    January 5, 2024, 6:49 am

    nice

    REPLY

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