Friday, December 31, 2010

"The Old Year's Gone Away To Nothingness And Night": John Clare

As the New Year arrives we should spare a thought for the Old Year.  Yes, T. S. Eliot has suggested that "Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past." ("Burnt Norton" in Four Quartets.)  However, I fear that such a mystic state of affairs is not accessible to most of us.  Instead, I think that John Clare (1793-1864) has it right:  we should bid the Old Year a fond fare thee well. 

               The Old Year

The Old Year's gone away
   To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
   Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
   In either shade or sun:
The last year he'd a neighbour's face,
   In this he's known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
   Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they're here
   And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
   In every cot and hall --
A guest to every heart's desire,
   And now he's nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
   Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
   Are things identified;
But time once torn away
   No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year's Day
   Left the Old Year lost to all.

John Clare, Poems, Chiefly from Manuscript (edited by Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter) (1920).

                              Eric Ravilious, "Downs in Winter" (1934)

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