New Year's Eve 2007: Tennyson
31 December 2007
New Year’s Eve
Dear Family and Friends,
When I was a young boy my parents purchased a series of literary classics. There must have been one hundred hard bound books, from Defoe to Dickens to Flaubert to Stevenson to I don’t remember who else. My parents hoped that my sister Paula and I would read them all and then “go to the head of the class.”
I have to admit I read almost none of those classics, at that time. In my own defense, they really weren’t children’s books. They were the classics after all, and I was too busy with baseball, the Boy Scouts and boy meets girl. So the books sat on the shelf.
Years later, I was an English Literature student at The City College of New York. Many of my classmates enjoyed complex novels and epic poems. I favored short stories, sonnets, and essays. And drama. I read dozens of plays, from Aeschylus to Marlowe to O’Neil to Miller to Albee. I preferred literary works I could get my arms around, works that I could read at one sitting and that would satisfy my need for an immediate payoff whether it was a smile or a moment of sadness or an accessible, understandable lesson, or more than likely, a grim, yet exalting, inspiring tragedy.
Motivated then by my college major, I leafed through one of my family’s classics: “The Poems of Tennyson.” I remember the volume quite clearly. It had a dark green binding. One page had been handled and viewed and read many times. Because I read the page many times.
Alfred Tennyson, known for his long narrative poems, wrote one short poem that for many years, every year, I read out loud to myself on this very day.
For some reason that poem of my youth and early adulthood popped into my mind last week.
The old green volume has disappeared but the modern Internet provides.
I still enjoy reading the poem on New Year's Eve. It provokes a smile, and a moment of sadness, and the promise of a "new face."
I hope you will also enjoy Tennyson's tribute to the Old Year. Perhaps you will read it aloud to yourself or to your family and friends just before singing "Old Lang Syne."
My best wishes for a healthful, productive and jolly New Year filled with “joke and jest.”
“The Death of the Old Year”
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing:
Toll ye the church bell sad and slow,
And tread softly and speak low,
For the old year lies a-dying.
Old year you must not die;
You came to us so readily,
You lived with us so steadily,
Old year you shall not die.
He froth'd his bumpers to the brim;
A jollier year we shall not see.
But tho' his eyes are waxing dim,
And tho' his foes speak ill of him,
He was a friend to me.
Old year, you shall not die;
We did so laugh and cry with you,
I've half a mind to die with you,
Old year, if you must die.
He was full of joke and jest,
But all his merry quips are o'er.
To see him die across the waste
His son and heir doth ride post-haste,
But he'll be dead before.
Every one for his own.
The night is starry and cold, my friend,
And the New-year blithe and bold, my friend,
Comes up to take his own.
How hard he breathes! Over the snow
I heard just now the crowing cock.
The shadows flicker to and fro:
The cricket chirps: the light burns low:
'Tis nearly twelve o'clock.
Shake hands, before you die.
Old year, we'll dearly rue for you:
What is it we can do for you?
Speak out before you die.
His face is growing sharp and thin.
Alack! Our friend is gone,
Close up his eyes: tie up his chin:
Step from the corpse, and let him in
That standeth there alone,
And waiteth at the door.
There's a new foot on the floor, my friend,
And a new face at the door, my friend,
A new face at the door.