Michiana Chronicles: Ring Out, Wild Bells

Dec 31, 2020

This is an undated sketch of British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, who was born in Somersby, England, in 1809. He was appointed by Queen Victoria as Poet Laureate in 1850 and served 42 years. He wrote several plays in the 1870s and was declared a baron in 1884. He died in 1892 and is buried at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey in London.
Credit (AP Photo)

The snowy weather has had me inside the last couple of weeks, with time on my hands to read.  This is the time of year I often turn to poetry, and as has become my custom in the last few years I want to take my Chronicle from this time of year to share a poem with you.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was a 19th century British poet laureate.  The kind of poet your grandmother might quote, since he was probably inflicted upon her at some point in high school.  He even looks like a poet if you ever see a picture of him.  All eyebrows, long curly hair, and flying wild beard.  Normally he’s staring into the distance, as if listening to the voice of his muse.  A muse, apparently, that always rhymed in iambic pentameter.   Tennyson is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, not even in his own day.  But he was a firm favorite of Queen Victoria, and his words have continued to sneak into everyday language over the generations.  

Probably all of us know snippets of Tennyson by heart, even if we do not know where we got them.  If you have ever mused: "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all" then you have been struck at least once from his literary quiver.  Actually, from the very piece I am reading from today.  In Memoriam, A.H.H.

In Memoriam was published in 1850.  It is a long elegy in memory of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who had died in 1832.  In all, it has 133 sections, or cantos, that muse on all manner of life-important topics.  To narrow things down, Canto 107 is the one we know as “Ring out, wild bells.”  It beautifully bridges the space between Christmas and New Year, with the Christmas bells ushering out an old year and heralding new hope for the year to come.  This passage sounds so fresh and to the point, even many decades after it was first written.  It could be written about today.  Take a listen:

Ring out, wild bells – excerpt

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892

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.

We’ll leave Tennyson there for now, ringing out disease and ringing in the common love of good.  Happy New Year, Michiana.  May the wild bells of 2020 ring in new life in 2021.


Music: "Ring Out Wild Bells" by Gareth Davies-Jones