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.
I once showed these stanzas to a friend who is a Trades Union official.
“Ach,” she said, “he sounds a decent man but he’s fucking vague!”
These famous stanzas move the poem into new territory, but they suffer from a terrible lack of particularity as written in the 1840’s. How can the ancient feud of rich and poor – based as it is upon the exploitation of the poor by the rich – be rung out, and what sort of redress might be offered to them? Of course a poem is not a political treatise, but vagueness with political matters is not poetical.
I am more expert in religion than in politics, so I would ask, “what is the nature of the Christ that is to be?” And actually, what is wrong with the original? Perhaps He was too particular.
We should see, however, that with this prophecy of a new society Tennyson’s grief finds a new context; a “fuller minstrel” can leave his mournful rhymes behind. This is such a change that the reader is compelled to take this canto with proper seriousness. If Tennyson can find a cure for grief in its prophecies, the reader must see them as a visionary experience of the poet. The vagueness, nevertheless, remains.
Our late daughter believed that animals should neither be eaten, nor killed by human beings. The wider adoption of this belief would comfort my grief for her more than any fulsome words about kindness.