The Year Is Going, Let Him Go

The poem that gave us the classic line for New Year’s Eve: “Ring out the old, ring in the new” is in danger of seeming trite because it is too familiar. In context, In Memoriam, with its unflinching exploration of grief,has a more intimate and immediate quality. It captures the soul of the bereaved person, rising at last from prolonged mourning to recognize that the very love that made the lost beloved so important to us calls us to pay attention again to the world around us and to hope and work for a better future.

It says, in part

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.

The image of “the Christ that is to be” echoes the Advent theme of the Second Coming, but also suggests that we may have a part to play in helping all people find a way to live as citizens of the age to come, by creating here and now a world of peace and justice.

John 9:4

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.




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.

Esteemed by critics and the public alike, Alfred Tennyson was widely considered the greatest English poet of his own day and was long the British Poet Laureate. The son of a priest in the Church of England, he was able to give voice to the doubts of the nineteenth century and yet remain connected with the church, being a friend and supporter of the theologian F. D. Maurice. “In Memoriam,” with its frank account of his grief over the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, is a key work of Victorian spirituality. Like the other Victorian poets, his reputation faded after his death, but he is again recognized as one of the great poets of the English language.

L. William Countryman, Run, Shepherds, Run: Poems for Advent and Christmas (New York; Harrisburg, PA; Denver: Morehouse Publishing, 2005), 93–94.

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Art: Christ The Judge by Fra Angelico

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life