Ringing Out, Ringing In

December 31: This day, or the moment of this day's passing, has inspired not only the famous commemorative poems but celebrations of poetry itself. Japan has held a New Year's Poetry Reading—the "Ceremony of the Utakai Hajime"—at the Imperial Palace since the middle of the thirteenth century. These were originally opportunities for the Emperor and his family to showcase themselves and their verse; now the occasion includes professional poets and the winning entries from a nationwide poetry competition.

 

It was traditional during the 18th and 19th centuries for North American newspapers to include broadside (one sheet, one side) poems in their New Year's Day edition, written by the newspaper carriers, or quite often, by the apprentice printer or "Printer's Devil." The Carrier's Address might satirize the year's political events, speak to a controversial local topic, or wax philosophical; the Address always ended with an appeal to the newspaper's readers to be kind with their year-end tip to the carrier. The following lines end the Address carried in the 1875 New Year's Day edition of the Central New Jersey Times:

Good-natured friend, if you would see him [the carrier] smile

A smile of blandness, like an angel, sorter,

Just lay your generous hand upon your pile,

And titillate his fingers with a quarter.

And so, dear reader, 'mid your festive revel,

I introduce "our mutual friend"—"The Devil."

The Daybook asks no quarter, and offers best wishes for 2011, along with a few stanzas from Tennyson's In Memoriam:

. . . Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times:

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

 

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

 

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace. . . .


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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