Welcoming January – Part I of II
January is named after the Roman god Janus, derived from the Latin word for door (“ianua”), since January is the door to the year. In the words of one historian, “In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.”
In the Spirit of a New Year: Cavett Robert
Greeting January with Poetry: John Clare
“The Old Year”
The Old Year’s gone away
To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
In either shade or sun:
The last year he’d a neighbour’s face,
In this he’s known by none.
All nothing everywhere:
Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they’re here
And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
In every cot and hall–
A guest to every heart’s desire,
And now he’s nought at all.
In the Spirit of a New Year: Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Greeting January with Poetry: Wallace Stevens
“No Possum, No Sop, No Taters”
He is not here, the old sun,
As absent as if we were asleep.
The field is frozen. The leaves are dry.
Bad is final in this light.
In this bleak air the broken stalks
Have arms without hands. They have trunks
Without legs or, for that, without heads.
They have heads in which a captive cry
Is merely the moving of a tongue.
Snow sparkles like eyesight falling to earth,
Like seeing fallen brightly away.
The leaves hop, scraping on the ground.
It is deep January. The sky is hard.
The stalks are firmly rooted in ice.
It is in this solitude, a syllable,
Out of these gawky flitterings,
Intones its single emptiness,
The savagest hollow of winter-sound.
It is here, in this bad, that we reach
The last purity of the knowledge of good.
The crow looks rusty as he rises up.
Bright is the malice in his eye . . .
One joins him there for company,
But at a distance, in another tree.
In the Spirit of a New Year: William Shakespeare
“Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.”
Welcoming January with Song – The Decemberists: “January Hymn”
Greeting January with Poetry: Margaret Avison
“New Year’s Poem”
The Christmas twigs crispen and needles rattle
Along the window-ledge.
A solitary pearl
Shed from the necklace spilled at last week’s party
Lies in the suety, snow-luminous plainness
Of morning, on the window-ledge beside them.
And all the furniture that circled stately
And hospitable when these rooms were brimmed
With perfumes, furs, and black-and-silver
Crisscross of seasonal conversation, lapses
Into its previous largeness.
Anne’s rose-sweet gravity, and the stiff grave
Where cold so little can contain;
I mark the queer delightful skull and crossbones
Starlings and sparrows left, taking the crust,
And the long loop of winter wind
Smoothing its arc from dark Arcturus down
To the bricked corner of the drifted courtyard,
And the still window-ledge.
Gentle and just pleasure
It is, being human, to have won from space
This unchill, habitable interior
Which mirrors quietly the light
Of the snow, and the new year.
In the Spirit of a New Year: Tom Peters
On This Date – Part I of III: Simon & Garfunkel
1 January 1966 – Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” reaches the number one position on the “Billboard Hot 100.”
In the Spirit of a New Year: Samuel Pepys
“Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.”
Below – “Dining Out,” by Beryl Cook
On This Date – Part II of III: Quiz
The Quiz: Which of the individuals listed below made this comment (disclosure: I changed two words)?: “You hear about constitutional rights, free speech and the free press. Every time I hear these words I say to myself, ‘That man is a liberal, that man is a socialist!’ You never hear a real American talk like that.”
a. J. Edgar Hoover
b. Glenn Beck
c. Ted Cruz
d. Ann Coulter
e. Sarah Palin
f. Rush Limbaugh
g. None of the above
h. All of the above
The answer is “g,” though I suspect that at least some people were tempted by “h” – and for understandable reasons. The person who made the remark was that paragon of civic virtue and champion of the free market Frank Hague, who died on 1 January 1956. In truth, Hague was the relentlessly corrupt mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey from 1917 until 1947, during which time, through a combination of bribery and coercion, he amassed a large personal fortune and managed to extend his political influence to the national level.
(In the original comment “liberal” was “Red” and “socialist” was “communist.”)
Below – The Honorable Frank Hague.
Greeting January with Poetry: William Carlos Williams
“January Morning – XII”
On This Date – Part III of III: E.M. Forster
“What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?” – E.M. Forster, English novelist, short story writer, essayist, and author of “A Room with a View” and “A Passage to India,” who was born 1 January 1879.
Some quotes from E.M. Forster:
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
“We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amidst dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship.”
“So, two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism.”
“The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.”
“A poem is true if it hangs together. Information points to something else. A poem points to nothing but itself.”
“The fact is we can only love what we know personally. And we cannot know much. In public affairs, in the rebuilding of civilization, something less dramatic and emotional is needed, namely tolerance.”
“At night, when the curtains are drawn and the fire flickers, my books attain a collective dignity.”
“The people I respect most behave as if they were immortal and as if society was eternal.”
“For our vanity is such that we hold our own characters immutable, and we are slow to acknowledge that they have changed, even for the better.”
“One of the evils of money is that it tempts us to look at it rather than at the things that it buys.”
“To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.”
“Unless we remember we cannot understand.”
“I am certainly an ought and not a must.”
“I have no mystic faith in the people. I have in the individual.”
“Ideas are fatal to caste.”
“It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness.”
“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”
“One marvels why the middle classes still insist on so much discomfort for their children at such expense to themselves.”
“People have their own deaths as well as their own lives, and even if there is nothing beyond death, we shall differ in our nothingness.”
“Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas!, we return.”
“The English countryside, its growth and its destruction, is a genuine and tragic theme.”
“The historian must have some conception of how men who are not historians behave. Otherwise he will move in a world of the dead. He can only gain that conception through personal experience, and he can only use his personal experiences when he is a genius.”
“The more highly public life is organized the lower does its morality sink.”
“Those who prepared for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy.”
“What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote.”
“Works of art, in my opinion, are the only objects in the material universe to possess internal order, and that is why, though I don’t believe that only art matters, I do believe in Art for Art’s sake.”
“The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.”
Welcoming January with Art – Grant Wood: “January”
Greeting January with Poetry: Robert Hass
“After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa”
New Year’s morning—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
A huge frog and I
staring at each other,
neither of us moves.
This moth saw brightness
in a woman’s chamber—
burned to a crisp.
Asked how old he was
the boy in the new kimono
stretched out all five fingers.
Blossoms at night,
moved by music
Napped half the day;
From now on,
It’s all clear profit,
Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
These sea slugs,
they just don’t seem
Bright autumn moon;
pond snails crying
in the saucepan.
In the Spirit of a New Year: Helen Keller
Greeting January with Poetry: Wallace Stevens
“The Snow Man”
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
Greeting January with Prose: Jean-Paul Sartre
Greeting January with Poetry: Naomi Shihab Nye
“Burning the Old Year”
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
In the Spirit of a New Year: Goran Persson
“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.”
Welcoming January – Part II of II
January: A month of gates and passages, of honoring the past and looking to the future, of endings and beginnings – a month for journeys both inner and outer, for creative enterprises, and, above all, for hope. Welcome, wonderful January.