One of the most famous New Year poems in the English language is Alfred Tennyson’s “Ring Out, Wild Bells” (1850). What was the inspiration for that poem? It was something like this traditional New Year’s bell-ringing at Eckington Church in Derbyshire, England, shown here in a fine five-minute documentary you can share with your students tonight:
In this traditional New Year’s performance, the ringers start by ringing out the old year right up to midnight, and then they all stop as a single bell rings the twelve o’clock hour — and then all the bells begin again, more joyously, ringing in the New Year.
This performance is an example of “full-circle” ringing, with the bells turning through a complete 360º arc from upside-down on one side, to upside-down on the other. This makes it easier to control the full set or “ring” of bells as though it were a single instrument played by eight people.
Tennyson’s “Ring Out, Wild Bells” took this English tradition of church-bell ringing on New Year’s Eve and, through language, converted it into both an earthly wish for better times and also a Christian wish for the heavenly kingdom that will do away with all suffering. Tennyson was one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century, and this finely crafted piece (eight syllables per line) is one of his best known and most accessible works — a great one to read and analyze with your students:
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 my 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.
Here’s wishing you and your family a peaceful, prosperous, healthy, and happy homeschool new year. 😊
❡ Ring out the thousand wars of old: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life.
❡ Explore more: The Poetry Foundation’s website includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including Tennyson) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers.
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses poetry calendar for the whole school year at riverhouses.org/calendars and follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends.