Words That Last
Some words last; they are worth repeating and passing on from generation to generation. Other words don’t; they fade away as quickly as their images on your iPhone screen.
In his recent book, Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character, Admiral James Stavridis, the former Supreme Commander of NATO, writes:
“We are witnessing the slow death of character, driven by a global popular culture that has turned increasingly away from classic values–honesty, commitment, resilience, accountability moderation–to a world that moves a breakneck speed and refuses to slow down and consider what is right and just. Attention spans have spiraled resolutely downward.”
He points to our unwillingness to read anything longer than a Twitter feed because it takes too much time; a reality of which I am keenly aware as I write this post!
A Poem That Lasts
One of the casualties in the “war on reading” is poetry, because you can’t read poetry quickly. It takes time. But some poems are worth the time. They last because they bear the weight of truth.
One of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s greatest works grew out of his most painful loss, the death of his best friend and his sister’s fiancé, Arthur Henry Hallam, at age 22. Tennyson worked on In Memoriam A.H.H for 17 years, which suggests that the way from grief to hope is not a sprint but a marathon. Tennyson was 41 years old when it was published, 150 years ago.
Midway through the poem, there’s an abrupt change in rhythm and spirit. Tradition says it was written after Tennyson awoke to the ringing of the bells in Waltham Abbey. The words last because they have an amazingly contemporary ring as we enter a new decade. I hope you’ll find time to read it. You can hear it set to music here.
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.
Amid the chaotic chatter of our conflicted time, we may hear the sound of bells that still ring with the hope for a better day…if we take time to listen.
Happy New Year!