“A Song for New Year’s Eve”

Something old, something new.

The American poet William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) was famous. Only Longfellow and Emerson were his rivals in popularity during his long life. “Thanatopsis”, if not the best-known American poem abroad before the mid-19th century, was certainly near the top of the list. Like “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in England, school children were often required to recite it from memory.

Bryant led a colourful life. Among many luminaries, he was friends with Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s great librettist, who had moved to New York to sell books and to promote Italian opera. Assuming that the two men shook hands, Bryant touched the hand that had touched Mozart’s.

Da Ponte also published several works in the New-York Review and Athenaeum Magazine, which Bryant edited and he later translated some of Bryant’s poetry into Italian. In 1838, Bryant may have been among the mourners at Da Ponte’s funeral, standing at a graveside – like Mozart’s in Vienna – subsequently lost.

“A Song for New Year’s Eve” appeared in Harper’s Magazine in January 1858 and was republished in Thirty Poems (1864).

“Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay—
Stay till the good old year,
So long companion of our way,
Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong,
Has now no hopes to wake;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
For his familiar sake.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One mirthful hour, and then away.

The kindly year, his liberal hands
Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
Because he gives no more?
Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

Days brightly came and calmly went,
While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
How sweet the seventh day’s rest!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away.

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep
Beneath the coffin-lid:
What pleasant memories we keep
Of all they said and did!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One tender hour, and then away.

Even while we sing, he smiles his last,
And leaves our sphere behind.
The good old year is with the past;
Oh be the new as kind!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One parting strain, and then away.”



Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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