A Song for New Year’s Eve by William Cullen Bryant

In ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve,’ Bryant discusses themes of change, memory, and hope. These are seen through Bryant’s depiction of the past and the fact that now, as the year is ending and friends are buried, all that’s left are memories. The “change” is undeniable. Its going to come in the next hours as the old year ends and the new begins. There is nothing they can do to stop it. 

There is a fear inherent in this fact of human life. The speaker doesn’t know if the next period of his life is going to be as fulfilling and generous as the previous. Hope is ever-present in ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’. Bryant’s speaker is going into the next year with hope in his heart that things are going to work out just as well this year as they did in the past. 

 

Summary of A Song for New Year’s Eve

‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’ by William Cullen Bryant uses personification to describe the end of the “old year” and the beginning of the new. 

The poem takes the reader through some of the human-like features the poet imbues the old year with. It had kindly hands and a generous spirit. It gave much happiness to the speaker and his friends and he feels as though it is only right they sing and celebrate the last moments before the new year begins. Together, the talk over what happened, their good luck and their bad, and wish for the next 365 to be just as wonderful. 

 

Structure of A Song for New Year’s Eve

A Song for New Year’s Eve’ by William Cullen Bryant is a six stanza poem that’s separated into sets of six lines, known as sestets. These sestets follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABAA, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza as the poet saw fit. There are also examples of internal rhyme, often seen through repetition, and half-rhyme. The latter, half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. 

This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “now no hopes” in the second line of the second stanza. Here, a reader can hear a repetition of the long “o” vowel sound. Or, another example, “brightly” and “calmly” in the first line of the fourth stanza. 

In regards to perfect, internal rhyme an example includes “shakes” in the fourth line of the first stanza and “wake,” and “sake” in lines two and four of the second stanza.

 

Poetic Techniques in A Song for New Year’s Eve

Bryant makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’. These include repetition, enjambment and personification. The first, repetition, is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. In the case of this particular poem it is seen through the use of a refrain “Oh stay, oh stay” as well as in the last line of each stanza as the phrase “One little hour, and then away” is reused, with slight alterations. Additionally, there are examples of single words being repeated throughout the poem. For example, “hour” and “hopes” in the second stanza. 

Anaphora is another kind of repetition, it occurs when a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. The first and second lines of the first stanza begin with “Stay” and the third and fourth of the fourth stanza begin with “How”. 

Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. Bryant personifies the old year as it fades away, smiling. He calls it “kindly” and speaks of its “liberal hands”. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve,’ such as in the transition between lines three and four of the second stanza. 

 

Analysis of A Song for New Year’s Eve

Stanza One 

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay— 

Stay till the good old year, 

So long companion of our way, 

Shakes hands, and leaves us here. 

Oh stay, oh stay, 

One little hour, and then away.

In the first stanza of ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’ the speaker begins by asking his friends to stay for a “moment”. He wants their company as the old year becomes new. It immediately becomes clear the year that’s just about to conclude has been important to him. He is seeking a proper ending to everything they’ve gone through together. The speaker suggests they metaphorically shake hands with the old year together.

 

Stanza Two 

The year, whose hopes were high and strong, 

Has now no hopes to wake; 

Yet one hour more of jest and song 

For his familiar sake. 

Oh stay, oh stay, 

One mirthful hour, and then away.  

In the next lines of ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’, Bryant uses personification in order to more accurately portray the importance of the year to his speaker. He says that year came with high and strong hopes, but now that hope is exhausted. All that’s left is for them to do their best to celebrate what’s gone away with “jest,” or jokes and stories, as well as songs. These will be sung as elegies to the old year. 

 

Stanza Three

The kindly year, his liberal hands 

Have lavished all his store. 

And shall we turn from where he stands, 

Because he gives no more? 

Oh stay, oh stay, 

One grateful hour, and then away.  

Personification is continued in the next lines of ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’ as Bryant refers to the year as having “liberal hands”. This is a metaphor for the kindness and generous nature of the past 365 days. He has taken a lot from this year and there is much to be thankful for. The speaker asks his friends, rhetorically, if it is decent of them to turn their backs on the year when its almost over. The answer is obviously no, and through the refrain, he asks his friends, and by default the year, to stay for one more “grateful hour”. 

 

Stanza Four

Days brightly came and calmly went, 

While yet he was our guest; 

How cheerfully the week was spent! 

How sweet the seventh day’s rest! 

Oh stay, oh stay, 

One golden hour, and then away.  

In the past, when the year was their guest, the days were “bright” and “calm”. These are gone now, they can only remember what was. They had cheerful weeks and “sweet” restful Sundays. 

 

Stanza Five 

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep 

Beneath the coffin-lid: 

What pleasant memories we keep 

Of all they said and did! 

Oh stay, oh stay, 

One tender hour, and then away.  

Over the last year, the speaker adds in the fifth stanza of ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’ some of their friends have died. They were with “us” but now they’re “Beneath the coffin-lid”. Again, all that’s left is memories of what “they said and did!” Despite the sadness of these losses, the mood remains upbeat and pleasant. 

 

Stanza Six 

Even while we sing, he smiles his last, 

And leaves our sphere behind. 

The good old year is with the past; 

Oh be the new as kind! 

Oh stay, oh stay, 

One parting strain, and then away.

In the final stanza of ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’ the speaker describes their final moments with the year. They sing and the year “smiles his last”. It fades away, leaving their golden world behind. The poem concludes with the speaker hoping that the “new” year be as kind as the old had been. 

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