Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"The Bells Ring Out, The Year Is Born"

Yesterday afternoon, in a United States Post Office, I heard Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis being played over the lobby loudspeakers.  I don't know what to make of this.

For New Year's Day, I had thought to post Ernest Dowson's "The Old Year," which contains the lines "There you lie, with your sick, scarred visage,/Who were once so fair to see."  And so on.  I intended to pair it with a poem by John Clare which begins thus:  "The Old Year's gone away/To nothingness and night."

But the miraculous appearance of the Fantasia in governmental space -- a Post Office lobby, of all places -- has  provoked a change of plan. Mourning the departed year is no longer appropriate.  The world has changed overnight.  Well, I shouldn't get too carried away.  Still . . .

Charles Napier Hemy, "Pilchards" (1897)

So, rather than "The Old Year," we shall shift to "The New Year."

                 The New Year

The bells ring out, the year is born,
And shall we hope or shall we mourn?
Shall we embrace the young, new year,
Or shall we turn back lingering eyes,
          To the low bier,
Where in his pall the old year lies?

What shall he bring to men who weep,
To men who laugh and men who sleep,
So very weary of the sun?
Shall one of these men ever gain,
          Ah even one,
His heart's desire nor find it vain?

Hope not, fear not:  he only bears
The message of the elder years!
A little love, a little pain!
To some a sweet or idle dream,
          To some again,
The sleep wherein we do not dream.

Ah sweet, my child, and yet mine own,
Though I must wander on alone,
Love me a little, clasp me still
With thy soft hands, and I will bear
          For good or ill
The burden of the coming year.

Ernest Dowson, Collected Poems (edited by R. K. R. Thornton) (Birmingham University Press 2003).

Yes, I realize that the poem does not consist of unalloyed good cheer, but, after all, this is Ernest Dowson and he was writing in the Nineties.  Hence, a bit of wistful, death-haunted melancholy is mandatory.  "They are not long, the weeping and the laughter . . . Out of a misty dream/Our path emerges for a while, then closes/Within a dream."  Et cetera.  We ought to give him credit for trying.

William Shackleton, "The Mackerel Nets" (1913)

     To wake, alive, in this world,
What happiness!
     Winter rain.

Shoha (18th century) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 217.

Edwin Hayes, "Sunset at Sea: From Harlyn Bay, Cornwall" (1894)


Merisi said...

A very Happy New Year to you and your loved ones,

Thank you for enriching my life with poetry and your thoughts. I appreciate your sharing immensely.

Stephen Pentz said...

Merisi: thank you very much for your kind words. I greatly appreciate your visits and your comments over the course of the year. Happy New Year to you as well.

John Ashton said...

Mr Pentz, how very fortunate you are to hear such a wonderful piece of music in your Post Office. Over here you are lucky if you ca n even find a Post Office as so many of them have closed down.
I like the Shoha haiku very much.
A very happy new year to you.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: I suspect that will be the first and last time that happens! But it was a nice surprise.

Happy New Year to you as well! I always look forward to receiving your thoughts, and I hope to hear from you in the coming year.