The End of the Year
I take the Gateshead Bus Driver’s view on New Year’s Eve. Some years ago, I was on the bus to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve in (Whoo-hoo!) Gateshead, when our journey was interrupted by the blare of sirens. It was only 6pm or so. “Here we go again,” said the bus-driver, bitterly – he must have seen a few New Year’s Eves, and had no taste for drunken revelry.
Su Tung P’o, second only to Tu Fu in the Chinese Canon, doesn’t begrudge his countrymen their fun in ‘The End of the Year’; after all, unlike the revellers here on Tyneside, they’re getting ‘a day of recompense, for a whole year of trouble’. He isn’t exactly getting into the spirit of the night though.
Classical Chinese ‘New Year’ poems were less about reviewing the year gone, or previewing the year to come, than about that theme central to much Classical Chinese poetry, the passage of time (see also, Chinese spring poems, Chinese Autumn poems, Chinese poems about rivers, and so on). Su Tung P’o’s thoughts on time range from the personal, about his own health and his friends, to the very general – from ‘what happens to time and where does it go?’ to ‘I get old, I get old’…
When a friend starts on a journey of a thousand miles
As he is about to leave, he delays again and again.
When men part, they feel they may never meet again.
When a year has gone, how will you ever find it again?
I wonder where it has gone, this year that has ended?
Certainly someplace far beyond the horizon.
It is gone like a river that flows to the East,
And empties into the sea without hope of return.
My neighbors on the left are heating wine.
On the right they are roasting a fat pig.
They will have one day of joy,
As recompense for a whole year of trouble.
We leave the bygone year without regret.
Will we leave so carelessly the years to come?
Everything passes, everything
Goes, and never looks back,
And we grow older and less strong.
From ‘One Hundred Poems from the Chinese’, Trans. Kenneth Rexroth, New Directions, New York, 1971