The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Passing Away, Saith The World

Alternate Title: The Knell of the Year

"Old And New Year Ditties"
Carol #3

Words: Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), 31 December 1860

See: Christmastide Poems of Christina Rossetti

Source: The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, with a Memoir and Notes by William Michael Rossetti (1904).

Passing away, saith the World, passing away:
Changes, beauty, and youth, sapped day by day:
Thy life never continueth in one stay.
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
With its burdenof fear and hope, of labour and play,
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day
Lo the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay;
Watch thou and pray.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
Winter passeth after the long delay:
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven's May.
Though I tarry, wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray:
Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered: Yea.

Note by William Michael Rossetti: "It will be observed that these three lyrics were written in three several years. They used to be called (1856) The End of the Year; (1858) New Year's Eve; (1860) The Knell of the Year. I have always regarded this last as the very summit and mountain-top of Christina's work. I will not say, nor indeed thin, that nothing besides of hers is equal to it; but I venture to hold that, while she never wrote anything to transcend it in its own line, neither did any one else. The poems depends for its effect on nought save its feeling, sense, and sound; for the verses avoid regularity of the ordinary kind, and there is but one single rhyme throughout. The note is essentially one of triumph, though of triumph through the very grievousness of experience past and present.

"In framing the selection of her Devotional Poems, 1875 and 1890, Christina used to put these Ditties last, followed only by Amen and The Lowest Place. In reading them together, it is natural for her brother to reflect whether they indicate any special occurrences in the years to which they relate. I cannot remember that they do cannot, for instance, say that in 1856 she was in any express sense 'stripped of favourite things she had'; however, the year 1860 (besides being the year of Dante Gabriel's marriage) was that in which Christina, a few days before she wrote The Knell, attained the age of thirty, and her thoughts as to the transit of years may have been more than ordinarily solemn.

"Her reference to her having 'won neither laurel nor bay' has also its interest. The bay began sprouting soon afterwards, with the appearance, in Macmillan's Magazine for February 1861, of the poem Up-hill, which at once commanded a considerable share of public attention. It is quite possible that Christina the most modest of poets, but by no means wanting in the self-consciousness of poetic faculty though in 1860 that the bay had been kept waiting quite long enough; and it is a fact that, between 24 July 1860, the date of The Lambs of Westmoreland, and 23 March 1861, the date of Easter Even, she wrote no verse whatever except this Knell of the Year." (page 472)

The other poems referred to in this note are:

    1. New Year Met Me Somewhat Sad

    2. Watch With Me

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