- Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
- The faithless coldness of the times;
- Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
- But ring the fuller minstrel in.
- -Tennyson, excerpt from In Memoriam
I first came across Tennyson's timeless homage to year's end in song, performing Jonathan Dove's Passing of the Year in university chorale. Dove's interpretation of the poem is the work's apex and conclusion, and Dove's score for double chorus peals voices atop one another in a cacophony of echoes and descants and perfect fourths to mimic instrumentation with bells, a technique Poe coined with the onomatopoeia tintinnabulation. It's reverse anthropomorphism, our reimagining the call from the steeple with breath and larnyx. The day before yesterday, whether in Mexico or the States, whether in joy or despair or quiet wonder at the hugeness of life and the smallness of our movement in it, we gathered together with those whom we love and who love us, or at least enjoy us enough to be shimmy-and-shake partners for an evening when all is reset, to "ring in" the new year. But we never held the bells at all, did we? Tennyson's imperative structure leaves us with an image of the mallet oscillating in its bronze cavern; I remind myself that doing presupposes hearing-first, listen. Each year, no matter our accomplishments or commitment to last year's aspirations for personal growth, the heart pauses at 12:02, when a new date has breathed its first, to sense the familiar sound. Does the air around our ears buzz with the promise that the mystery we find ourselves in is still in motion? At day's end, desperation is what runs between my hands as I lift them heavenward: I am a mixed bag in my most cohesive moments, but my ears are still unstopped. Thank God, I still long for a wild place while spinning in the centrifuge of complacency.
In Susan Cooper's good-versus-evil children's epic, The Dark Is Rising, the young protagonist Will learns to identify the forces of Light by a cadence of bells that suspends time and beats back encroaching evil. It is the plantive call of the bell tower that marks the watchman's passage through the night. and the single chime that causes us to open our door to the outside. In whatever station we find ourselves in, the bells do not leave us there; they are an entrance into alteration, a lover's cry of remembrance in the evening, a faint hope for a world restored.
Hospitality is all that remains in the parting phrases of In Memoriam, a testament to our truest and only resolution: to keep shoulders back and tray tables in the upright and locked position as time bears ceaselessly on, to take solace in the fact that although our sensing of its propulsion-its stretches and lapses and compressions-is a wishful illusion that masks its fierce neutrality (a phrase I have returned to often in my new-year musings), the metronome contains the promise of upward motion.
Happy new year. Feliz año. Do you hear them?
- Ring in the valiant man and free,
- The larger heart the kindlier hand;
- Ring out the darkness of the land,
- Ring in the Christ that is to be.