The Music of What Happens

“The old year now away is fled …” (New Year’s Carol)

Do you have hope for the future? someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end. Yes, and even for the past, he replied, that it will turn out to have been all right for what it was, something we can accept, mistakes made by the selves we had to be—not able to be, perhaps, what we had wished or, what looking back half the time it seems we easily could have been, or ought to have been … The future, yes, and even for the past, that it will be something we can bear.

                                    — David Ray, Sam’s Book (Wesleyan, 1987)

Happy New Year, one and all!! And thank you, dear reader, for all the times you dropped by to read and reflect and respond over the past twelve months. I am grateful for your thoughtful attention, and for your supportive sharing of the posts that move you. Thus does our circle of thought grow wider.

As we prepare for the turning of the year, let me pass on to you two gifts for the occasion from John Burnside’s The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2020). The first is a story from Ireland:

One night, around a campfire, a band of Celtic warriors begin to debate what might constitute the finest music in the world. One man says it is ‘The cuckoo calling from the tree that is highest in the hedge,’ while others jump in to suggest ‘the top of  music is the ring of a spear on a shield’ …  ‘No, it’s the bellowing of a stag across a lake’ … ‘It’s the song of a lark’ … ‘It’s the laugh of a gleeful girl.’ Finally, they turn to their chief, Fionn, and ask him what he would choose, to which he replies: ‘The music of what happens. That is the finest music in the world.’

The second New Year’s gift is Burnside’s translation from the Ninth of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies. The “once and no more” need not be a denial of resurrection (we are, I believe, more than “earthly”), but it is a candid reminder to savor the gift of every moment and every face.

A time
for everything, but only once. Once and no more.
And we too, only once.
Never again. But to have been here
this once, even if only once:
to have been earthly, this cannot be revoked.

A snowman surrenders to what Susan Sontag called “time’s relentless melt” (Jan. 3, 2022).

And if you’d like to revisit some past New Year’s Eve reflections on our dance with time, click the links below. May 2023 be a year of grace for you and those you love. Great joy to the New!

The Angel of Possibility (2014)

There is an element of carnival this night, as we throw off the tyranny of good order for a bit of wild excess, declaring independence from the way things are in the name of things to come. But the night’s underlying theme is not chaos but renewal.

Tick-Tock: Thoughts on New Year’s Eve (2015)

It seems fitting that the world festival of the turning of time comes in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas, since the Incarnation is God’s decisive embrace of the temporal and finite, while extending – simultaneously – an invitation to us humans to embody in ourselves the divine kenosis – the eternal self-emptying that constitutes God’s trinitarian life. In other words, both human and divine are all about giving over and letting go. Never just being, but also becoming.

On New Year’s Eve, My Inner Clown is Full of Hope (2018)

At year’s end, I sometimes lapse into a retrospective melancholy, thinking of people, moments, experiences and places that have come and gone in my life, some for the last time. My sense of future will revive at midnight, when we will go outside to bang gongs, beat drums and blow kazoos and whistles to welcome the New. But until then, impermanence shall be my partner in the year’s last dance.

Tending Hope’s Flame on an Anxious New Year’s Eve (2021)

With the flag of hope tattered and torn by endless battles, I draw inspiration from Thoreau, who continued his quiet work of studying the natural world even as the Civil War ravaged the American consciousness. We must, he argued, refuse the hypnotic spell of the chaos which seeks to seduce our gaze. The refusal to take our eye from the transcendent goodness and beauty at the heart of things is “the only fatal weapon you can direct against evil.”

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