As I have observed on more than one occasion, each generation believes that it is living in a time in which the world is going to Hell in a handbasket. (The Baby Boom Generation -- of which, alas, I am a member -- is particularly prone to self-regarding, self-aggrandizing delusions about its historical uniqueness and importance.) Thus, some may look upon the coming year with a bit of trepidation. I respectfully suggest that, in order to gain some perspective, they have a gander at, say, Herodotus.
Reading the poetry of Thomas Hardy also gives one a sense of perspective. Hardy dated the following poem "31 December 1900," and it is directed at the turning of the century, not simply the turning of the year. Yet, it provides a reminder that -- along with Human Nature -- we will always have thrushes (in some form or another) with us.
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Thomas Hardy, Poems of the Past and the Present (1901).
Several times each year, I figuratively slap myself on the forehead and say: "Why do I always forget how good Hardy is?" This occurs either after I have stumbled upon a wonderful poem unknown to me among his 940-or-so poems, or, alternatively, after I have revisited a familiar poem and am struck anew by its excellence.
"The Darkling Thrush" is one of Hardy's most-anthologized, best-known poems. Thus, it is easy to take for granted. But then something new hits you. For me, this time, it was these lines: "Had chosen thus to fling his soul/Upon the growing gloom." "Gloom" is endemic in Hardy's poetry, so its appearance comes as no surprise. No, what struck me this time around was "fling his soul." These are the moments that bring one back to Hardy.