* NOTICE: Mr. Center's Wall is on indefinite hiatus. Got something to say about it? Click HERE and type.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Poetry IX -- FROSTED BELLS for NEW YEAR'S

Usually I find back stories for things like this a drag, but today I'm doing it anyway, because the connection doesn't make any sense without the context.

Usually sometime Saturday night (especially now that church time has been moved up to nine), I start thinking about what I might do for Sunday Poetry.  Considering the time of year, both for earth's tilt and our current spot in the calendar, the weather--frigidly cold and snowy--and the New Year circled me mind.  Here in Utah right now, while not setting any records, it is frigidly cold.  The effect of this icy average is augmented by the general emotional impression left by what the recent cold snap's abrupt arrival did to the heavy slush fall from the day before followed by a dry powdery snow then a partial melt-off and finally another wicked freeze last night.

Walking across the church parking lot this morning was dangerous!

The coldest poem I know is "Out, Out -" by the late and way great Robert Frost (who, for some reason--and corroborated by appearances--resides on a particular shelf in my mind right next door to Cormac McArthy

(Do you know which one is which?)
Read this poem, and tell me it doesn't just make you shiver, shiver in horrific chill, sure, but as surely shiver in synesthetic frigidity (yes, synesthesia again: one of the greatest abilities of great writing):

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside him in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if it meant to prove saws know what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap -
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all -
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart -
He saw all was spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off -
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. The hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then - the watcher at his pulse took a fright.
No one believed. They listened to his heart.
Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Okay, so for the season that seems really negative, and, well, I guess it is.  *not a non-sequitur:*  If you read this blog and have at least followed the Sunday Poetry entries, you should remember last week's interesting parallel between two pieces by Poe--the story, "The Black Cat," and the poem, "The Bells."  Well, this week's pair of pieces are not parallel; I believe they're perpendicular.  "Out, Out -" doesn't seem in any way to celebrate the birth of the new year, at least inasmuch as the holiday is indeed about rebirth and the New and all that mushy stuff.  But remember, as one year is born, so one dies, and should we not walk away from it perhaps even without looking back over our shoulder?

Anyway, I don't know how the connection was made--what or which synaptic firing caught this other one in the cross--but next I thought of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ring Out, Wild Bells," which is all about the temporal crux of New Year's:

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 thy 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.

It's the ringing of the bells--the tonal tintinnabulation, that, while in Poe is a tocsin of doom, in Tynneson verily sparkles--that brings the warm fuzzies so associated with New Year's.  But look more closely: inasmuch as "The Bells" and "The Black Cat" --ostensibly so totally different--tell the same story and are quite parallel, so too are both of these poems, "Out, Out -" and "Ring Out, Wild Bells," converge at the same point: New Year's, though clearly from two different directions.

More interestingly still (at least for a great geek like me) is the haunting melody ascribed to the latter of the two, by Crawford Gates.  For me, artistically speaking rather than temporally, at least for the moment, this, by the meeting of tone and lyric, is where the two poems by Frost and Tennyson meet:



  1. The first poem is horrific. But I think it's also somewhat true, at least for the doctor character. I do think that the death of a loved one lingers with a person for a long time.

    The second one I find interesting because, while it's ostensibly optimistic, none of the things it says need to be done are ever likely to be solved, so it kind of leaves you feeling that this year will be just as disappointing as the last one.

  2. The first poem, I see the hand and the boy as the old year. Now that the year is gone, we move on to our regular thing....

    The second is almost a bleak commentary on resolutions. They're not really ever going to happen, nor can they, and, when the next new year approaches, we pretty much cut it off at the wrist and let it die right along with the old year.

  3. Interesting on the first one. I guess I had not seen it that way, but I can definitely see what you're saying now. To me, it is about mortality, but I can see how the two are related.

  4. There's no way it was intended as I'm using it here. I think it is about mortality, like you, plus the reaction of those around the tragedy who all have that, "well, it won't ever happen to me" attitude.


Be sure to subscribe to the thread to receive discussion updates.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...