Issa and Lord Tennyson


hokku by Issa

New Year’s Day–
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

Issa was a 16th century writer famous in Japan for his haikus, or hokkus, as they should technically be called. The hokku is a short poem, usually a single vertical line in the original Japanese. It’s only through Western translation that we get the familiar three lines. The traditional hokku does follow the 5/7/5 format we all know (and love!), but the units being counted were not syllables but morae, which are related to, but not entirely synonymous with syllables. A traditional hokku was not a stand-alone poem, but actually the opening verse of a longer poem called a renga–although later on, when poets wanted to write hokku and nothing more, they implied a theoretical renga to follow it. It was only in the 19th century that the hokku became haiku and was stripped of its connection to the renga.

Although this poem relates the Japanese New Year, which is in springtime, the sentiment seems just about the same.

And because it’s such a momentous day, here’s another MOSNTER OF POETRY! Alfred, Lord Tennyson–or Al, as I like to call him–is one of England’s most famous and revered poets. Today’s passage from Al comes from one of his most famous works, In Memoriam, written on the death of his closest friend. In Memoriam is a long poem, written in iambic tetrameter (-‘ -‘ -‘ -‘) with an enclosed rhyme (abba). The rhyme and meter are often noted when talking about this work, because there is a general sense that the strict rhythm contributes to the poem’s somber, mourning mood almost as much as the text itself.

However this passage is one of the poem’s most joyous and hopeful; it is from this passage that the phrase “ring out the old, ring in the new” originates. It’s a beautiful poem. Enjoy.

“Ring out, wild bells” from In Memoriam, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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.

Stranger than Nonfiction
Gerard Manley Hopkins
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