The Passing of the Year

by Frances Fuller Victor

Worn and poor,

The Old Year came to Eternity's door.

Once, when his limbs were young and strong,

From that shining portal came he forth,

Led by the sound of shout and song,

To the festive halls of jubilant earth;—

Now, his allotted cycle o'er,

He waited, spent, by the Golden Door.

Faint and far—faint and far,

Surging up soft between sun and star,

Strains of revelry smote his ear;

Musical murmurs from lyre and lute—

Rising in choruses grand and clear,

Sinking in cadences almost mute—

Vexing the ear of him who sate

Wearied beside the Shining Gate.

Sad and low,

Flowed in an undertone of woe:

Wailing among the moons it came,

Sobbing in echoes against the stars;

Smothered behind some comet's flame,

Lost in the wind of the war-like Mars,

—Mingling, ever and anon,

With the music's swell a sigh or moan.

"As in a glass,

Let the earth once before me pass,"

The Old Year said; and space untold

Vanished, till nothing came between;

Folded away, crystal and gold,

Nor azure air did intervene;

"As in a glass" he saw the earth

Decking a bier and waiting a birth.

"You crown me dead," the Old Year said,

"Before my parting hour is sped:

O fickle, false, and reckless world!

Time to Eternity may not haste;

Not till the last Hour's wing is furled

Within the gate my reign is past!

O Earth! O World! fair, false and vain,

I grieve not at my closing reign."

Yet spirit-sore

The dead king noted a palace door;

He saw the gay crowd gather in;

He scanned the face of each passer by;

Snowiest soul, and heart of sin;

Tried and untried humanity:

Age and Youth, Pleasure and Pain,

Braided at chance in a motley skein.

"Ill betide

Ye thankless ones!" the Old Year cried;

"Have I not given you night and day,

Over and over, score upon score,

Wherein to live, and love, and pray,

And suck the ripe world to its rotten core?

Yet do you reek if my reign be done?

E're I pass ye crown the newer one!

At ball and rout ye dance and shout,

Shutting men's cries of suffering out,

That startle the white-tressed silences

Musing beside the fount of light,

In the eternal space, to press

Their roses, each a nebula bright,

More close to their lips serene,

While ye wear this unconscious mein!"

"Even so."

The revelers said: "We'll have naught of woe.

Why should we mourn, who have our fill?

Enough that the hungry wretches cry:

We from our plenty cast at will

Some crumbs to make their wet eyelids dry;

But to the rich the world is fair—

Why should we grovel in tears and prayer?"

In her innocent bliss,

A fair bride said with sweet earnestness,

"For the dead Year am I truly sad;

Since in its happy and hopeful days,

Every brief hour my heart was glad,

And blessings were strewn in all my ways:

Will it be so forevermore?

Will the New Years bring of love new store?"

Youth and maid.

Of their conscious blushes half afraid,

Shunning each other's tell-tale eyes,

Yet cherishing hopes too fond to own;

Speed the Old Year with secret sighs;

And smile that his time is overflown;

Shall they not hear each other say

"Dear Love!" ere the New Year's passed away?

"O, haste on!

The year or the pleasure is dead that is gone!"

Boasted the man of pomp and power;

"That which we hold is alone the good;

Give me new pleasures for every hour,

And grieve over past joys ye who would—

Joys that are fled are poor, I wis—

Give me forever the newest bliss!"

"Wish me joy,"

Girl-Beauty cried, with glances coy:

"In the New Year a woman I;

I'll then have jewels in my hair,

And such rare webs as Princes buy

Be none too choice for me to wear:

I'll queen it as a beauty should,

And not be won before I'm wooed!"

"Poor and proud—poor and proud!"

Sighed a student in the motley crowd—

"I heard her whisper that aside:

O fatal fairness, aping heaven

When earthly most!—I'll not deride—

God knows that were all good gifts given

To me as lavishly as rain,

I'd bring them to her feet again."

"Here are the fools we use for tools;

Bending their passion, ere it cools,

To any need," the cynic said:

"Lo, I will give him gold, and he

Shall sell me brain as it were bread!

His very soul I'll hold in fee

For baubles that shall buy the hand

Of the coldest woman in the land!"

Spirit sore,

The Old Year cared to see no more;

While, as he turned, he heard a moan—

Frosty and keen was the wintry night—

Prone on the marble paving-stone,

Unwatched, unwept, a piteous sight,

Starved and dying a poor wretch lay;

Through the blast he heard him gasping say:

"O, Old Year!

From sightless eyes you force this tear;

Sorrows you've heaped upon my head,

Losses you've gathered to drive me wild,

All that I lived for, loved, are dead,—

Brother and sister, wife and child,

I, too, am perishing as well;

I shall share the toll of your passing bell!"

Grieved, and sad,

For the sins and woes the Human had,

The Old Year strove to avert his eyes;

But fly or turn wherever he would,

On his vexed ear smote the mingled cries

Of revel and new-made widowhood—

Of grief that would not be comforted

With the loved and beautiful lying dead.

Evermore, every hour,

Rising from hovel, hall and tower,

Swelling the strain of discontent;

Gurgled the hopeless prayer for alms,

Rung out the wild oath impotent;

Echoed by some brief walls of calms,

Straining the listener's shrinking ears,

Like silence when thunderbolts are near.

Across that calm, like gales of balm,

Some low, sweet household voices came;

Thrilling, like flute-notes straying out

From land to sea, some stormy night,

The ear that listens for the shout

Of drowning boatmen lost to sight—

And died away, again so soon

The pulseless air seemed fallen in a swoon.

Once pure and clear,

Clarion strains fell on his ear:

The preacher shook the soulless creeds,

And pierced men's hearts with arrowy words,

Yet failed to stir them to good deeds:

Their new-fledged thoughts, like July birds,

Soared on the air and glanced away,

Before the eloquent voice could stay.

"'Tis very sad the man is mad,"

The men and women gaily said;

As they, laughing, thread their homeward road,

Talking of other holidays;

Of last year, how it rained or snowed;

Who went abroad, who wed a blaze

Of diamonds with his shoddy bride,

On certain days—and who had died.

"Would I were dead,

And vexed no more," the Old Year said:

"In vain may the preacher pray and warn;

The tinkling cymbals in your ears

Turn every gracious word to scorn;

Ye care not for the orphan's tears;

Your sides are fed, and your bodies clad

Is there anything heaven itself could add?"

And then he sighed, as one who died,

With a great wish unsatisfied;

Around him like a wintry sea,

Whose waves were nations, surged the world,

Stormy, unstable, constantly

Upheaved to be again down-hurled;

Here struggled some for freedom; here

Oppression rode in the high career.

In hot debate

Men struggled, while the hours waxed late;

Contending with the watchful zeal

Of gladiators, trained to die;

Yet not for life, nor country's weal,

But that their names might hang on high

As men who loved themselves, indeed,

And robbed the State to satisfy their need!

Heads of snow, and eyes aglow

With fires that youth might blush to know;

And brows whose youthful fairness shamed

The desperate thoughts that strove within;

While each his cause exulting named

As purest that the world had seen:

All names they had to tickle honest ears,

Reform, and Rights, and sweet Philanthropy's cares.

"Well-a-day! Well-a-day!"

The Old Year strove to put away

Sight and sound of the reckless earth;

But soft! from out a cottage door,

Sweet strains of neither grief nor mirth,

Upon his dying ear did pour;

"Give us, O God," the singers said,

"As good a year as this one dead!"

Pealing loud from sod to cloud,

Earth's bell's rang out in a chorus proud;

Great waves of music shook the air

From organs pulsing with the sound;

Hushed was the voice of sob and prayer,

As time touched the eternal bound:

To the dead monarch earth was dimmed,

But the golden portals brighter beamed.

Sad no more,

The Old Year reached the golden door,

Just as the hours with crystal clang

Aside the shining portals bent

And murmuring 'mong the spheres there rang

The chorus of earth's acknowledgment:

One had passed out at the golden door,

And one had gone in forevermore!