Life, Literature, Loss, Quote of the Day

Two from Tennyson

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’–Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Crimenutely.

In my search for a suitable quote of the day for New Year’s Eve, I stumbled over a little-known work (at least, I didn’t know about it, which makes it little-known in my book) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian is a musical play (this is where I have to willingly suspend my disbelief because we are talking about Alfred, Freaking Lord Tennyson).  Its music, which consists of nine movements, was composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and it was first performed in New York in 1892.  Apparently, the working relationship between Lord Alfred and Sir Arthur wasn’t terribly congenial, having its roots in an ill-assorted pairing two decades prior.  Absence did not make the two gentlemen’s hearts grow fonder, at least in relation to each other; nor did the fact that Sullivan’s music was almost universally praised, while Tennyson’s prose and songs were generally reviled, with critics calling them “puerile rubbish,” “devoid of any kind of merit whatsoever.”

I’ve not read the play.  But by gum, I’m going to!  Hard to pass up a work which contains such gems as this one, spoken by a character known only as the “Fourth Retainer”  (To think there are three more just like him–and they seem always to speak in series, one after the next), towards the end of Act One, Scene I:

Fourth Retainer: Why there, now! That very word ‘greasy’ hath a kind of unction in it, a smack of relish about it.  The rats have gnawed ’em already.  I pray Heaven we may not have to take to the rushes.’

See what I mean?  Cringeworthy.  There’s an element, in Tennyson’s prose and attempt at colloquial speech, that’s reminiscent of that Elizabeth Warren interview where she says “I’m gonna get me a beer,” or the clip of John Kerry asking “Is this where I get me a huntin’ license?”

To the rushes, everyone!  No, not the rushes!

Excelsior!

So.  Having washed out (metaphorically, anyway) my literary mind with soap, I move onto the real Quote of the Day, from Tennyson’s much-earlier masterpiece, In Memoriam, A.H.H., first published in 1850, and surely one of the most quoted poems in literature. This particular section is known as “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” (for reasons which will become clear in a moment), and it’s generally thought of as Tennyson’s New Year poem:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

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.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

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.

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.

Lovely, isn’t it?  And, gosh:

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;

and

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;

and

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;

and

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;

and

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Wow.

Until–after what seems like an eerily prescient recapitulation of life in these United States in 2021–we finally get to the meat of the matter:

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.

Amen.

And I found myself wondering if it was possible to sum up the theme of “Ring Out, Wild Bells” in a single sentence? And how would I do so?

Then it struck me:

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier.’

That’ll do.  To start with, anyway.

Happy and Blessed New Year, everyone!  May we all spend it with those we love and those who love us, and may all our dreams come true.

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