The HyperTexts

New Year Poetry: the Poetry of Winter, Conclusions, Endings and New Beginnings

Which poets wrote the best New Year poems? Poems and song lyrics about New Year's Day and the "ushering in" of the new year have themes that include endings, conclusions, departures, remembrances, the passage of time, and new beginnings. But who are the exemplars, the masters of the genre?

For whatever it's worth, here are my top ten poems and songs about the New Year:

(#10) "Mild is the Parting Year" by Walter Savage Landor
(#9) "In Tenebris" by Ford Madox Ford
(#8) "Sonnet 73" by William Shakespeare ("That time of year thou mayst in me behold")
(#7) "New Year's Day" by Kim Addonizio
(#6) "New Year on Dartmoor" by Sylvia Plath
(#5) "Taxi" by Harry Chapin
(#4) "Another Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg
(#3) "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden
(#2) "The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy
(#1) "Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns as performed by Helmut Lotti (sung with a rare combination of clarity, sweetness and power), Ed Miller (a great traditional Scottish version), Lisa Lambe of Celtic Women (angelic vocals), Dougie MacLean, Kurt Nilsen, Mairi Campbell, The Tenors (superb arrangement and vocals, soaring but not overdone), Susan Boyle, Boney M (an upbeat reggae version), Kenny G, Sissel, Lea Michele, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin with Billy Preston, Julie Andrews, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Taylor, André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra, Bing Crosby, Beach Boys, Slade (hard rock version, sorta), Lou Rawls, India Arie, Jersey Boys, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Colbie Caillat, Straight No Chaser (up-tempo, great vocals), Randy Travis (country version), Rod Stewart, Frank C. Stanley (the first known recording of the famous song, circa 1907-1910)

Honorable Mention: "New Year's Day" written by Bono and performed by U2, "1999" written and performed by Prince, "Funky New Year" written and performed by the Eagles, "Happy New Year" performed by ABBA, "What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve" written by Frank Loesser and performed by Ella Fitzgerald, "Let's Start the New Year Right (One Minute to Midnight)" produced by Irving Berlin and performed by Bing Crosby, "Auld Lang Syne (The New Year's Anthem)" performed by Mariah Carey, "Happy New Year" performed by Judy Garland, "New Year’s Morning" by Helen Hunt Jackson, "The Death of the Old Year" by Alfred Tennyson, "The Year" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, "My Dear Acquaintance" performed by Regina Spektor, "New Year's Day" performed by Taylor Swift

The most famous New Year poem, by far, was penned by Scotland's greatest bard and songwriter, Bobbie Burns, and was later set to the melody of a traditional Scottish folk tune which we all know by heart:

Auld Lange Syne
by Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

Robert Burns was named the greatest Scotsman of all time in a Scottish TV poll. From his correspondence on the subject, it seems Burns may have adapted an old Scottish song, adding stanzas that he wrote himself around 1788. Have you ever wondered exactly what you're singing about? The Scottish word "jo" means "sweetheart," "darling" or "dear." The phrase "auld acquaintance" means something like "old friendships" or "longstanding relationships." The term "auld lang syne" means something like "times gone by" or "times long since passed" and in the context of the song suggests something like "times long since passed that we shared together and now remember fondly." In my modern English translation of "Auld Lang Syne," which is not word-for-word, I try to communicate what I believe Burns was trying to communicate: raising a toast to fond recollections of times friends and lovers shared in the past:

Auld Lange Syne
by Robert Burns
modern English translation by Michael R. Burch

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And days for which we pine?

For times we shared, my darling,
Days passed, once yours and mine,
We’ll raise a cup of kindness yet,
To those fond-remembered times!

For centuries, Great Britain's poet laureates have been charged with writing poems to ring in the New Year. Nahum Tate established the tradition, writing eight New Year odes between 1693 and 1708. The phrase "ring out the old, ring in the new" comes from the pen of the most famous English poet laureate:

Excerpt from "In Memoriam"
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

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.

This classic John Lennon song has become an anthem for the worldwide peace movement, along with "Imagine" and "Instant Karma":

And so this is Christmas and what have we done?
Another year over, a new one just begun.
And so happy Christmas; we hope you have fun:
The near and the dear ones, the old and the young.
A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear.
War is over if you want it; war is over now.
—John Lennon, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

These haiku by Oriental masters make me think of the New Year, which arrives bringing hope in the dead of winter:

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

White plum blossoms
though the hour is late,
a glimpse of dawn
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The haiku above is believed to be Buson's death poem; he is said to have died before dawn.

The new calendar:
as if tomorrow
is assured? ...

—Inahata Teiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Students with your copybooks:
from whose satchel
shall the New Year spring?

—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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

Kobayashi Issa, translation by Robert Hass

Year after year,
the face a monkey faces
is a monkey face.

—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Do we really change, for all our New Years' resolutions? Are we really so different from our peers? Matsuo Basho suggests: perhaps not, or not as much as we would like to think. Haiku scholar Kon Eizo explains: “At a New Year’s performance, a monkey’s mask worn by a monkey changes nothing, so we repeat the same foolishness each year.”

Because it will not melt
we dedicate this ice
to the New Year’s dawning sun

—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It's child's play for the cranes
circling the clouds
to celebrate the year’s first sunrise
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Basking beneath the New Year’s sun:
my grubby hut.

—Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Letting in torrents
of New Year’s rain:
my leaky hut.

—Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, God of the New Year,
this year also,
please have pity!
—Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

New Year on Dartmoor
by Sylvia Plath

This is newness: every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto. Only you
Don't know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There's no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new
To want the world in a glass hat.

"New Year on Dartmoor" was inspired by an ice storm. Sylvia Plath was walking by a moor with her toddler daughter, who may have found the winter scenery strange, puzzling and perhaps frightening.  

Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot know the beheaded god
nor his eyes' forfeited visions. But still
the figure's trunk glows with the strange vitality
of a lamp lit from within, while his composed will
emanates dynamism. Otherwise
the firmly muscled abdomen could not beguile us,
nor the centering loins make us smile
at the thought of their generative animus.
Otherwise the stone might seem deficient,
unworthy of the broad shoulders, of the groin
projecting procreation's triangular spearhead upwards,
unworthy of the living impulse blazing wildly within
like an inchoate star—demanding our belief.
You must change your life.

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This is a poem about a major resolution: changing the very nature of one's life. While it is only my personal interpretation of the poem above, I believe Rilke was saying to himself: "I must change my life." Why? Perhaps because he wanted to be a real artist, and when confronted with real, dynamic, living and breathing art of Rodin, he realized that he had to inject the same vital and muscular elements into his poetry. Michelangelo said that he saw the angel in a block of marble, then freed it. Perhaps Rilke had to find the dynamic image of Apollo, the God of Poetry, in his materials, which were paper, ink and his imagination.—Michael R. Burch

Here are the opening lines of another New Year's Day poem by Robert Burns, Scotland's "Ploughboy Poet":

Sketch – New Year’s Day, 1790
by Robert Burns

THIS day, Time winds th’ exhausted chain;
To run the twelvemonth’s length again:
I see, the old bald-pated fellow,
With ardent eyes, complexion sallow,
Adjust the unimpair’d machine,
To wheel the equal, dull routine.
The absent lover, minor heir,
In vain assail him with their prayer;
Deaf as my friend, he sees them press,
Nor makes the hour one moment less ...

Here is one of the very best poems of the genre, by another English master. This celebrated poem not only ushered in a new year, but a new centennial, as it was written at the dawn of the 20th century, on December 30, 1900:

The Darkling Thrush

by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
     The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.

Here's another poem in a similar vein:

In Tenebris
by Ford Madox Ford

All within is warm,
   Here without it's very cold,
   Now the year is grown so old
And the dead leaves swarm.

In your heart is light,
   Here without it's very dark,
   When shall I hear the lark?
When see aright?

Oh, for a moment's space!
   Draw the clinging curtains wide
   Whilst I wait and yearn outside
Let the light fall on my face.

Here's a poem of mine about the close of the twentieth century:

The Century’s Wake
by Michael R. Burch

lines written at the close of the 20th century

Take me home. The party is over,
the century passed—no time for a lover.
And my heart grew heavy
as the fireworks hissed through the dark
over Central Park,
past high-towering spires to some backwoods levee,

hurtling banner-hung docks to the torchlit seas.
And my heart grew heavy;
I felt its disease—
its apathy,
wanting the bright, rhapsodic display
to last more than a single day.

If decay was its rite,
now it has learned to long
for something with more intensity,
more gaudy passion, more song—
like the huddled gay masses,
the wildly-cheering throng.

You ask me—
How can this be?
A little more flair,
or perhaps just a little more clarity.
I leave her tonight to the century’s wake;
she disappoints me.

Originally published by The Centrifugal Eye

Here's a wonderful excerpt from a poem about waking up to a New Year:

New Year’s Morning
by Helen Hunt Jackson
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

These are more fine lines by a great poet:

The Death of the Old Year
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Old year you must not die;
You came to us so readily,
You lived with us so steadily,
Old year you shall not die.

Here is an excerpt from a poem by a poet who is undervalued these days:

Mild is the Parting Year
by Walter Savage Landor

Mild is the parting year, and sweet
The odour of the falling spray;
Life passes on more rudely fleet,
And balmless is its closing day.
I wait its close, I court its gloom,
But mourn that never must there fall
Or on my breast or on my tomb
The tear that would have soothed it all.

Here is an excellent poem by another undervalued poet who explores the darkness and light each new year brings:

The Year
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

Some poets, however, seem to dispense with hope altogether. Such poems can be very "wintery":

Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Here's one of the most famous winter poems in the English language, from the quill of the Bard of Avon:

Sonnet 73
by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

This is one of my favorite New Year's Day poems by a contemporary poet:

New Year’s Day
by Kim Addonizio

The rain this morning falls   
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell   
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.   
The few loves I’ve been allowed

to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia

I walk across the fields with only   
a few young cows for company.

Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember

from junior high, who never   
spoke, who kept their heads

lowered and their arms crossed against   
their new breasts. Those girls

are nearly forty now. Like me,   
they must sometimes stand

at a window late at night, looking out   
on a silent backyard, at one

rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls   
of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons   
and cry hard for whoever used

to make them happiest,   
and wonder how their lives

have carried them
this far without ever once

explaining anything. I don’t know   
why I’m walking out here

with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up

with a mild sucking sound   
I like to hear. I don’t care

where those girls are now.   
Whatever they’ve made of it

they can have. Today I want   
to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,   
and lift my face to it.

While this poem by the leading lady of American poetry is not specifically about the new year, it is about conclusions and possible new beginnings:

by Emily Dickinson

This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
It beckons and it baffles;
Philosophies don't know
And though a riddle, at the last,
Sagacity must go.
To guess it puzzles scholars;
To gain it, men have shown
Contempt of generations,
And crucifixion known.

Here is a somewhat similar poem, tremendously sad, but with perhaps a glimmer of hope, by one of the great Romantics:

Music When Soft Voices Die (To )
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

Here's another poet who finds both sadness and perhaps a spark of hope and possible redemption in memory:

by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Here's another similar poem by one of my favorite poets:

Song For The Last Act
by Louise Bogan

Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music's cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

Here's a poem that may hint of Universal Salvation, the ultimate new beginning:


by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
    A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
    You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
   Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
   They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
   Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
   Yea, beds for all who come.

Here's a wonderful poem by a poet undervalued today, if not completely unknown to most readers. The poem reminds me of "Auld Lang Syne":

The Light of Other Days
by Tom Moore

Oft, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me:
    The smiles, the tears
    Of boyhood's years,
  The words of love then spoken;
    The eyes that shone,
    Now dimm'd and gone,
  The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

When I remember all
  The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall
  Like leaves in wintry weather,
    I feel like one
    Who treads alone
  Some banquet-hall deserted,
    Whose lights are fled,
    Whose garlands dead,
  And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me.
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

Here is another wonderful poem about conclusions and parting:


by Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,
  Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
  Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
  With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
  And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
  I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
  Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
  That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
  And haply may forget.

This may be the ultimate poem about conclusions!

Excerpts from "More Poems"
by A. E. Housman
XLVII - For My Funeral

O thou that from thy mansion
Through time and place to roam,
Dost send abroad thy children,
And then dost call them home,

That men and tribes and nations
And all thy hand hath made
May shelter them from sunshine
In thine eternal shade:

We now to peace and darkness
And earth and thee restore
Thy creature that thou madest
And wilt cast forth no more.

Oscar Wilde was more than wit. This is a lovely, intensely touching poem about the sorrow of partings. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs, "Danny Boy."

by Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life's buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

This is another wonderful poem about conclusions and parting:

Bread and Music
by Conrad Aiken

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovèd,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,—
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

This is one of my favorite winter poems, a very chilling one!

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

This is another chilling poem with a "wintry" feel:

Acquainted With The Night
by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Here is another poem by the same poet:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

This has long been one of my favorite poems:

Luke Havergal

by Edward Arlington Robinson

Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,
And in the twilight wait for what will come.
The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,
Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;
But go, and if you listen, she will call.
Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies
To rift the fiery night that's in your eyes;
But there, where western glooms are gathering
The dark will end the dark, if anything:
God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
And hell is more than half of paradise.
No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies—
In eastern skies.

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,
Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss
That flames upon your forehead with a glow
That blinds you to the way that you must go.
Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,
Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.
Out of a grave I come to tell you this—
To tell you this.

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There are the crimson leaves upon the wall,
Go, for the winds are tearing them away,—
Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,
Nor any more to feel them as they fall;
But go, and if you trust her she will call.
There is the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

The great Irish poet William Butler Yeats loosely translated a Pierre Ronsard poem into English; I believe he was thinking of the love of his life, Maude Gonne ...

When You Are Old

by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Here is one of my favorite poems, a winter elegy from one great poet to another ...

In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden


He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Resurrecting Passion
by Michael R. Burch

Last night, while dawn was far away
and rain streaked gray, tumescent skies,
as thunder boomed and lightning railed,
I conjured words, where passion failed ...

But, oh, that you were mine tonight,
sprawled in this bed, held in these arms,
your breasts pale baubles in my hands,
our bodies bent to old demands ...

Such passions we might resurrect,
if only time and distance waned
and brought us back together; now
I pray that this might be, somehow.

But time has left us twisted, torn,
and we are more apart than miles.
How have you come to be so far—
as distant as an unseen star?

So that, while dawn is far away,
my thoughts might not return to you,
I feed your portrait to the flames,
but as they feast, I burn for you.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year
by Michael R. Burch

Merry Christmas!
  Best of wishes!
    Hugs and kisses,
Don't do dishes
  or eat fishes.
    You're delicious,
Happy New Year!
  Hope to see yer
    'round Springwater
      once again.
You're a treasure,
  such a pleasure
    (that's for sure),
      a sexy friend.
Now I'm learnin'
  all 'bout yearnin',
    and I'm earnin'
      it, I guess.
I'll be stronger,
  live much longer.
    If I'm wronger,
      I'll confess.
Had to tell you
  that you're swell; you
    ought to sell you
      for a mil.
If I could,
  I'd (knock on wood)
    be just as good.
      I never will.
Still, I love you,
  thinking of you;
    I eschew to
      tell you why.
If you're ever
  in the market
    (or hard up)
      just call this guy.

by Michael R. Burch

Now the evening has come to a close and the party is over ...
we stand in the doorway and watch as they go—
each stranger, each acquaintance, each casual lover.

They walk to their cars and they laugh as they go,
though we know their forced laughter’s the wine ...
then they pause at the road where the dark asphalt flows
endlessly on toward Zion ...

and they kiss one another as though they were friends,
and they promise to meet again “soon” ...
but the rivers of Jordan roll on without end,
and the mockingbird calls to the moon ...

and the katydids climb up the cropped hanging vines,
and the crickets chirp on out of tune ...
and their shadows, defined by the cryptic starlight,
seem spirits torn loose from their tombs.

And we know their brief lives are just eddies in time,
that their hearts are unreadable runes
to be wiped clean, like slate, by the dark hand of Fate
when their corpses lie ravaged and ruined ...

You take my clenched fist and you give it a kiss
as though it were something you loved,
and the tears fill your eyes, brimming with the soft light
of the stars winking sagely above ...

Then you whisper, "It's time that we went back inside;
if you'd like, we can sit and just talk for a while."
And the hope in your eyes burns too deep, so I lie
and I say, "Yes, I would," to your small, troubled smile.

I rather vividly remember writing this poem after an office party the year I co-oped with AT&T (at that time the largest company in the world, with presumably a lot of office parties). This would have been after my sophomore year in college, making me around 20 years old. The poem is “true” except that I was not the host because the party was at the house of one of the upper-level managers. Nor was I dating anyone seriously at the time. Oh, and I changed the season because it was a Christmas/New Year's Party, with no katydids or crickets to be seen or heard.

Other New Year Poems and Songs of Note:

"Archaic Torso of Apollo" by Rainer Maria Rilke
"The Auld Farmer’s New-Year-Morning Salutation to his Auld Mare, Maggie" by Robert Burns
"In Memoriam" by Alfred Tennyson
"Old and New Year Ditties" by Christina Rossetti
"The Old Year" by John Clare
"One Year ago―jots what?" by Emily Dickinson
"At the Entering of the New Year" by Thomas Hardy
"New Year's Eve" by Thomas Hardy
"A New Year’s Gift, Sent to Sir Simeon Steward" by Robert Herrick
"New Year on Dartmoor" by Sylvia Plath
"New Year's Eve" by D. H. Lawrence
"New Year's Night" by D. H. Lawrence
"Snowfall" by Ravi Shankar
"1 January 1965" by Joseph Brodsky
"Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye
"After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa" by Robert Hass (the opening stanza)
"To the New Year" by W. S. Merwin
"Year’s End" by Richard Wilbur
"New Year’s Day Nap" by Coleman Barks
"A Song for New Year’s Eve" by William Cullen Bryant
"New Year’s Morning" by Kobayashi Issa
"New Year’s Day" by Kobayashi Issa
"On a New Year’s Eve" by June Jordan
"Te Deum" by Charles Reznikoff
"The Passing of the Year" by Robert W. Service
"New Year’s Eve" by Robert W. Service
"New Year's Chimes" by Francis Thompson

The HyperTexts