A Backward Glance: Pondering Wilcox’s “The Year”

Image courtesy Favim.com
Image courtesy Favim.com

A Backward Glance: Pondering Wilcox’s “The Year”

By Crystal Hurd

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

~ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The above poem marks a very typical response to the New Year. Another year older.  Another year working the same job making the same money to pay the same bills. The scenery never changes. Your life is like a repeating song.  You hear the same familiar tune and can easily predict the vocalist’s next notes.  You don’t anticipate the beginning and you don’t mourn the conclusion.  And why would you?  Why express joy or sadness when you know it will come around again, enslaved to the same tempo?

I used to think like that, until New Year’s Eve 2010.  That year, we celebrated at a party with some friends, but I was not feeling particularly jovial.   Two weeks before, my Mom’s mammogram revealed a small spot that concerned her doctors.  She was undergoing tests to determine what it was.  But I knew what it was. I knew that the year ahead was pregnant with challenges – surgeries and hospital visits and uncertainty.  When the new year arrived that evening, I did not open my arms to welcome it.  Rather, I scoffed at it. I wanted to go backwards, back to the time when I was blissfully ignorant of antagonists such as cancer. But there was nothing I could do but trudge forward and embrace the changes about to occur. Like a dutiful soldier who has anxiously heard the fearful rumors of combat, I had no choice but to carry myself (or more precisely allow God to carry me) into battle.

And that is what I did. The events of that year radically changed my perspective on life. My Mom survived cancer, I travelled to Europe for the first time (a long-cherished dream), and I completed the first half of a daunting dissertation.  As Wilcox states, I laughed and wept, I was hurt and hurt others (“hug the world until it stings” – my favorite stanza) and recovered.  I attended weddings, I attended funerals. But, contrary to prior years, I performed these things with an acute awareness, a renewed value of life and of purpose. I truly understood life as a gift, not as a “burden”.  This is the one scruple I have with Wilcox’s verse. I’m not one to quarrel with poets, but I adamantly disagree with the use of this term.  Through my lens, life is not a “burden”.  It is a daily opportunity to experience things in technicolor. It’s a chance to become better, to love, to dream, to inspire and be inspired. Even on bad days (and we all have them), there is a well of positivity within me.  In troubling times, I drink deeply and am restored.

When I think of my life now, of the joys of loving, of writing, of teaching, of living, I see an amber field stretching into the sunrise and my arms reaching out to embrace the young rays of the sun.  Unfortunately, it is now a rather cliché picture, but it is one that is permanently captured in my mind’s eye. The light encompasses me.  My skin is warm.  My eyes are closed. Each breath collects within my lungs the sanctity of the moment. The posture is one of reckless abandonment, of utter trust in something beyond my sight. And armed with this trust, I am liberated.

This year has been an absolutely wonderful experience.  I saw dreams realized and new goals created.  I finished my degree. I began and continued incredible friendships. I traveled to wonderful places. I met remarkable people. I joined, to my great pleasure, the All Nine Muses. I am incredibly thankful. Earlier this year, while dining with my dissertation chair and great friend Dr. Jasmine Renner, she remarked, “Every year of my life is always better than the last.  The blessings keep coming and I am grateful.” This is how I want to live my life, appreciative and expectant of the things to come. May you adopt this enthusiasm as the new year approaches.

With these experiences, I offer here my version of Wilcox’s poem which reflects my story.


What can be said of New Year rhymes

In triumphant or in trying times?


The new years come, the old years go

And what, my dear, have we to show?


The stagnant tide does not come in

We grow unsure, our patience thin.


The clock hands swirl around the face

The months progress at frightful pace.


Awake! Reclaim your stolen life

Purloined by drama, stress, and strife.


No longer paralyzed by fear

The blessed journey of a year

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