poem index

Poems for the New Year

Year

2004
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Eighteenth-century Scottish poet Robert Burns may well be most famous not for a poem he wrote, exactly, but for a poem he wrote down. According to Burns Country, a comprehensive website devoted to the poet, Burns, in a letter to an acquaintance, wrote, "There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul. You know I am an enthusiast in old Scotch songs. I shall give you the verses on the other sheet... Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians."

That song was a version that Burns fashioned of "Auld Lang Syne," which annually rings in the New Year at parties across the world, though most often sung out of tune and with improvised lyrics, as it has been described as "the song that nobody knows." Though the history of the authorship of the poem is labyrinthine and disputed, Burns is generally credited with penning at least two original stanzas to the version that is most familiar to revelers of the New Year. Here are the first two stanzas as Burns recorded them:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Undoubtedly, some rousing version of the Scottish song echoed through the New Year’s night near where Thomas Hardy wrote his haunting goodbye to the ninteenth century, "The Darkling Thrush." Dated December 30, 1900, which signaled the end of the century in Hardy’s view, the poem intones a much more somber sense of the end of one time and beginning of another. Consider the last lines of the opening stanza, which set a grim scene:

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

But century’s end, for Hardy, was possibly an arbitrary marking, too, and there was hope to be found, in the form of the sudden song issued from a thrush’s voice, a "full-hearted evensong / Of joy illimited."

For centuries, it has been the charge of Britain’s Poet Laureate to write a poem to ring in the New Year. Laureate Nahum Tate established this practice, having written eight New Year odes between 1693 and 1708. And the phrase "ring out the old, ring in the new" first comes from another laureate’s pen, Lord Alfred Tennyson, from his most well-known poem, "In Memoriam":

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Finally, Kobayashi Issa, a great practitioner of the haiku form, approached the new year with a sense of humility and reverence:

New Year's Day--
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

Here is a short list of New Year’s poems to call on after the clock strikes midnight on December 31:

"New Year's Day Nap" by Coleman Barks
"A Song for New Year's Eve" by William Cullen Bryant
"Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns
"The Old Year" by John Clare
"One Year ago--jots what?" by Emily Dickinson
"At the Entering of the New Year" by Thomas Hardy
"The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy
"A New Year’s Gift, Sent to Sir Simeon Steward" by Robert Herrick
"New Year’s morning" by Kobayashi Issa
"New Year’s Day" by Kobayashi Issa
"New Year's Morning" by Helen Hunt Jackson
"On a New Year's Eve" by June Jordan
"New Year on Dartmoor" by Sylvia Plath
"Te Deum" by Charles Reznikoff
"Archaic Torso of Apollo" by Rainer Maria Rilke
"The Passing of the Year" by Robert W. Service
"New Year’s Eve" by Robert W. Service
"In Memoriam" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson