The Passing of the Year

The Passing of the Year
By Robert W. Service

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
  My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
  And wait to feel the old year go.
I dedicate to solemn thought
  Amid my too-unthinking days,
This sober moment, sadly fraught
  With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time
  You stand to bow your last adieu;
A moment, and the prompter’s chime
  Will ring the curtain down on you.
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
  You falter as a Sage in pain;
Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,
  And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
  Let us all read, whate’er the cost:
O Maiden! why that bitter tear?
  Is it for dear one you have lost?
Is it for fond illusion gone?
  For trusted lover proved untrue?
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
  What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right
  So sleek, so prosperously clad!
What see you in that aged wight
  That makes your smile so gay and glad?
What opportunity unmissed?
  What golden gain, what pride of place?
What splendid hope? O Optimist!
  What read you in that withered face?

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,
  What find you in that filmy gaze?
What menace of a tragic doom?
  What dark, condemning yesterdays?
What urge to crime, what evil done?
  What cold, confronting shape of fear?
O haggard, haunted, hidden One
  What see you in the dying year?

And so from face to face I flit,
The countless eyes that stare and stare;
Some are with approbation lit,
And some are shadowed with despair.
Some show a smile and some a frown;
Some joy and hope, some pain and woe:
Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!
Old weary year! it’s time to go.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;
My fire is almost ashes too;
But once again, before you go,
And I prepare to meet the New:
Old Year! a parting word that’s true,
For we’ve been comrades, you and I —
I thank God for each day of you;
There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

About the Poem

“The Passing of the Year” by Robert Service is a beautiful and thoughtful poem about the passing of the year and the beginning of the new. At this critical juncture, the poet, sitting comfortably, talks with the old year. There isn’t much from the poet’s side as it’s much about others with whom the poet converses. They don’t talk with the poet but show how they are, either happy with the passing of the year or sad. However, without remarking much about the poet’s personal affairs the poet bids thanks to the old year at last. Such a poem like this is always rewarding to that person who sits alone and visualizes the year in a recap.

About the Poet

Robert William Service, the renowned poet of the Yukon, was born in Lancashire, England, on January 16, 1874. In 1883 he moved with his family north to Glasgow, Scotland. He attended several of Scotland’s finest schools, where he developed a deep interest in books and poetry, along with a sharp wit and a way with words.

Service’s innate curiosity and fondness for adventure stories inspired an urge to travel—to go off to sea and to see the world. Although his parents discouraged this adolescent ambition, his desire wasn’t extinguished (and would one day be fulfilled). Service bided his time with assorted jobs—one at a shipping office that soon closed down, then another following his father’s footsteps in a position at a suburban branch of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. Working under light supervision, Service managed to pass the day with reading material he’d snuck in: Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and John Keats. Service developed into an excellent student of poetry, and attended the University of Glasgow to study English Literature. He was quickly identified as one of the brightest in his class, though he also proved to be a bit audacious. After a year, the young poet left the university.

Soon his interests realigned with his aims for adventure. His reading turned to Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, and their stories of world explorers in search of fortune and, more important, their own identity. In 1895, at the age of twenty-one, with a significant amount of savings, Robert announced his dream of going to Western Canada to become a cowboy. He soon set sail for Montreal with only his suitcase and a letter of reference from the bank in tow. Upon arrival, Service took a train across Canada to Vancouver Island, where he lived for many years and gathered much of the material for what became his most celebrated poems. Many of his experiences working on cowboy ranches, and the colorful personalities he met during his travels around the West, eventually found their place in his work.

Numerous publications followed, including Songs of a Sourdough, published in 1907, which won wide acclaim. His forty-five verse collections accumulated over one thousand poems, the most famous of which include “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” and “The Men That Don’t Fit In.” To add to his poetic output, Service wrote two autobiographies, Ploughman of the Moon (1945) and Harper of Heaven (1948), as well as six novels. His poem about Dan McGrew and several of his novels were adapted to film. The poet himself managed even to garner an acting credit, appearing briefly opposite Marlene Dietrich in the 1942 movie The Spoilers.

Service served as an ambulance driver during World War I, after which he published Rhymes of a Red Cross Man (Barse & Hopkins, 1916), a collection of mostly war poems. He later married a French woman, Germaine Bougeoin, and the two lived in Europe, mainly in the south of France, until the poet’s death in 1958. By then, his prolific and prosperous career in poetry had earned him the distinction—as stated in an obituary in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph—as “the people’s poet.”

He died in Lancieux, France, on September 11, 1958.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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