The Annus Horibillis
Queen Elizabeth could have been describing 2020 when she called 1992 an Annus Horribilis. With unusual royal candor, she said it was “a year upon which I shall not look back with undiluted pleasure.”
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to end this year and begin the new one than returning to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His classic poem, In Memorial A.H.H, is his cry of grief and pain after the death of his best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, at age 22. It captures how many of us feel at the end of this year.
But 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. 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.
Ringing Out by Ringing In
Tennyson knew that the only way to “ring out” a bad thing is to “ring in” a good thing. Thomas Chalmers, the 19th Century minister in the Church of Scotland, professor, political economist, and unrelenting advocate for the poor, described it as The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.
We affirm this truth in our Baptism vows when we “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness [and] reject the evil power of this world” while we “accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
I was tempted to name the things I want to “ring out” and “ring in” this year, but instead, I encourage you to read the poem. Read it slowly. As you read, see the faces, remember the headlines, hold onto the images of those things in your life. Make your own list and then claim the presence and promise of the one who promised, “Look! I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5)
Have a Hopeful New Year!