Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring Out, Wild Bells

This week’s choice is by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and marks the transition from the Old Year to the New.

The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809—1892)

Poem 196. Ring Out, Wild Bells

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.

This poem starts with the idea of the church bells that traditionally welcome in the new year while dispatching the old one and extends it to disposing of all the things that are hateful and unwanted while bringing in the things that are welcome and desired.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us would want to ring out the “old shapes of foul disease” this year, amongst other things. I know that there are many, like me, who would wish to ring out “the grief that saps the mind”, though that’s not easy either.

I like this poem for Tennyson’s earnest wish to delete grief, poverty, party strife (presumably he refers to political parties here, and not the sort that are conducted during lock-downs) and all the other bad things he cites; his list of positives is admirable too.

Lines from the poem have been used in many musical settings by Gounod, Percy Fletcher, George Harrison and others; perhaps the most interesting reference is that a Swedish translation “Nyårsklockan” is performed at the New Year’s Eve celebration in Stockholm every year. The last line of the poem is inscribed on the chapel bell of Gresham’s School, and the lines “Ring out the false, ring in the true” are cast on the surface of the hour bell at Manchester’s Town Hall.