The Passing of the Year by Robert Service

‘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.

The Passing of the Year by Robert Service

 

Summary

‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service is a lovely poem about the passing of the year and a new beginning.

‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service begins with the poet sitting by the fireplace, drinking, and smoking a pipe. He broods upon the dying year and what it has in store. The “Old Year” appears upon the “Stage of Time” bidding adieu to the audience. Moreover, the poet sees the sad face of a lady, a happy old man, and a gloomy-faced person. Each face has something present to the poet. However, the poet feels enough after musing on the dying year that has nothing more. Hence, he expresses his gratitude for the year for its comradeship. With a smile, he bids the Old Year a warm good-bye.

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure

‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service consists of seven stanzas each having eight lines in it. The rhyme scheme of the poem is regular and it’s ABAB ABABA. This rhyme scheme goes on in the following stanzas. Such a rhyme brings out the musical quality of the poem. From this sound scheme, it becomes clear the poet isn’t sad while thinking upon the parting year. Moreover, in each line of the poem, there are a total of eight syllables. The stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. Hence the overall poem is composed in iambic tetrameter. The rising rhythm of each foot reflects a sense of optimism and hope. The idea is definitely in contrast with the conventional motifs regarding the dying year.

 

Literary Devices

‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service contains several literary devices. The most important literary device of the poem is personification. Here, the poet personifies the “Old Year” as if it’s an actor upon the “Stage of Time”. In “Stage of Time”, the poet uses a metaphor. Here, time is compared to a stage on which people perform their part and leave. In the first four lines of the poem, the poet uses anaphora. Thereafter, the second stanza begins with an apostrophe. There is also a simile in the line, “You falter as a Sage in pain”. The third stanza begins with a simile too in the phrase “sphinx-like face”. From this stanza, the poet uses several interrogations that present answers implicitly. However, the poet uses alliteration, consonance, and assonance for creating an internal rhythm in the poem.

 

Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,

     My den is all a cosy glow;

(…)

This sober moment, sadly fraught

     With much of blame, with little praise.

‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service illustrates the poet is sitting by the fire. His glass is filled. It means he is drinking. His pipe is lit. So he is drinking and smoking at the same time while waiting to “feel” the old year go. The italicized “feel” in the poem, sets the mood of the poem. It hints that the poet is in a state of introspection neither lamenting nor troubled with thoughts. In the last four lines of this stanza, the poet dedicates these moments just before the new year to “solemn thought”.

As the poet hasn’t given it a thought previously, he thinks it’s the right moment to look back or look in the present at this critical juncture. Thereafter the poet becomes sober and sad as there is much to blame with little praiseworthy things in his life. So, the poet isn’t happy with what happened in that year. Whatsoever, he shifts from his subjective thoughts in the upcoming stanzas.

 

Stanza Two

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time

     You stand to bow your last adieu;

(…)

Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,

     And face your audience again.

The second stanza of ‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service directly addresses the “Old Year” at the beginning. He imagines the embodiment of the year is standing on time’s stage. He is about to bow his last adieu. Just a few moments left before the prompter’s chime or bell. He will ring it and the curtain will come down on the old year. Thereafter, the poet describes the features of the actor representing the old year. His appearance is sad and his step is slow. He falters like a sage in pain. Still, the poet requests it to turn before he leaves. And, face the audience again yet for the last time.

 

Stanza Three

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,

     Let us all read, whate’er the cost:

(…)

O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan

     What hath the Old Year meant to you?

‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service describes how the face of the year looks like in the first two lines of the third stanza. It is sphinx-like. The face is remote yet austere. Thereafter, the poet welcomes readers to read some other faces imaginatively present around the poet. He can see a maiden. She is grieving for some bitter thing that happened in her life. The poet guesses if she has lost someone or she has understood the reality of her fond illusion. Moreover, the poet thinks she is probably sad because her lover has gone. Whatsoever, there is a request to the lady for telling others what the old year meant to her.

 

Stanza Four

And you, O neighbour on my right

     So sleek, so prosperously clad!

(…)

What splendid hope? O Optimist!

     What read you in that withered face?

In the fourth stanza of ‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service, the poet refers to a neighbor sitting on his right. He looks sleek and prosperously clad in fine garments. The person is old just like the old year. Yet he is happy and his smile reflects his mental state. The poet asks him what opportunity he has got at this dying moment of the year. Moreover, the poet thinks he has gained something “golden”, a reference to something valuable. He can also be proud of the place he lives in. Whatever the reason may be, from his appearance it becomes clear, this old man is an optimist. There is splendid hope in his heart. At last, the poet requests readers to tell him what they can read from his face.

 

Stanza Five

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,

     What find you in that filmy gaze?

(…)

O haggard, haunted, hidden One

     What see you in the dying year?

In the fifth stanza of ‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service, the poet finds an unknown person, shrinking in the gloomy corner. There is a filmy or hazy gaze in his eyes. It seems that the fear of tragic doom troubling that person. Moreover, the poet thinks he might be condemning the “dark yesterdays” of his life. From his face, the poet can assume there is an urge inside his heart to commit a crime or something evil. The poet also asks this haunted and hidden fellow to present his views about the dying year in front of others.

 

Stanza Six

And so from face to face I flit,

     The countless eyes that stare and stare;

(…)

Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!

     Old weary year! it’s time to go.

The sixth stanza of ‘The Passing of the Year” by Robert Service marks a sudden shift in the poem as the poet is about to stop musing over the passing year. He says he has studied enough faces and read countless eyes that stare at him. In some eyes, he can find approbation or positivity. Whereas, some are shadowed with despair. In some faces, there is a smile. In contrast, some are frowning. Along with that, some people are joyous and hopeful about the upcoming year. But, some are in extreme pain and woe as something sad happened to them in that year. Whatsoever, the poet firmly says, “Enough!” He is tired of thinking about others and harks the prompter to ring the curtain down at once. He rebukes the “Old weary year” to leave as “it’s time to go”.

 

Stanza Seven

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;

     My fire is almost ashes too;

(…)

I thank God for each day of you;

     There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

The last stanza of the poem, ‘The Passing of the Year’ written by Robert Service again refers to the image of the first stanza. But, this time, the poet’s poetic fire is turned to ashes. Moreover, his glass is dry and his pipe is out. Setting those things aside, the poet calls the old year and tells it that he has something to say. Before he prepares to meet the “New”, the poet expresses his gratitude to the old buddy. They have been comrades for a long year. So, the poet thanks God for each day for having the “Old Year” by his side. In the end, the poet blesses the old year and bids a warm good-bye.

 

Historical Context 

‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service is one of the uplifting poems of English literature. It’s not about the dying thoughts about the old year. Rather, it’s about the poet’s gratitude towards God as well as the parting year. However, “the Bard of the Yukon”, Robert William Service was a British-Canadian poet who wrote verse, not poetry. The poet took himself aloof from the sophistry and decorum of modernist poetry. Rather, he chose a form that can soothe a layman as well as an intellectual mind. Hence, there is simplicity as well as romanticism. His verse is packed with the spontaneity of rhythm and precise sound pattern. Apart from that, in this poem, the association of other characters and giving their emotions value hint at the liberal mindset of the poet. Hence, he wasn’t the poet of the classes rather he was a bard of the masses.

 

Similar Poetry

Like ‘The Passing of the Year’ by Robert Service, here is a list of a few poems that present similar themes regarding the parting of the old year and the coming of the new.

You can read about 10 of the Best Poems about Hope here.

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Sudip Das Gupta
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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