A New Year Miscellany

From the calendar of the Tres Riches Heures, created for Jean, Duc de Berry. He is shown seated right (in blue) while members of his household exchanges New Year gifts.

Here, to celebrate the New Year, I’ve gathered a few seasonal excerpts for your delectation, fictional and non-fictional. First up is the sumprtuous New Year Feast in Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight translated from Middle English by Simon Armitage. (Please note, I abandoned any effort to replicate the line spacing).

The first course comes in to the fanfare and clamour of blasting trumpetshung with trembling banners, then pounding double drums and dinning pipes, weird sounds and wails of such warbled wildness that to hear and feel them made the heart float free.

Flavoursome delicacies of flesh were fetched in and the freshest of foods, so many in fact therewas scarcely space to present the stews or to set the silver bowls on the cloth. Each guest received his share of bread, or meat or broth; a dozen plates per pair – plus beer, or wine, or both!

Bell Ringers by Ryland, Henry (1856-1924); Christopher Wood Gallery, London.

Next is Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors which, I think, is one of the best detective novels ever written. It is New Year’ Eve, and Lord Peter Wimsey is stranded in the village of Fenchurch St Paul, following a car accident. The rector provides shelter, and waxes lyrical about his plans for a nine-hour bell-ringing marathon to welcome the New Year with 15,840 Kent Treble Bob Majors (despite reading the book several times over the years, I still have no idea exactly what this means, so please don’t ask). Anyway, when one of the ringing team falls ill Lord Peter nobly comes to the rescue, and there is the most wonderful onamatapoeic account of the bells ringing out:

The bells gave tongue: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas and Tailor Paul, rioting and exulting high up in the dark tower, wide mouths rising and falling, brazen tongues clamouring, huge wheels turning to the dance of the leaping ropes. Tin tan din dan bim bam bom bo – tan tin din dan bam bim bo bom – tin tan dan din bim bam bom bo – tan tin dan din bam bim bo bom – tan dan tin bam din bo bim bom – every bell in her place striking tuneably, hunting up, hunting down, dodging, snapping, laying her blows behind, making her thirds and fourths, working down to lead the dance again.”

The Vicarage in Winter, Eric Revilious

And here are more bells – real this time – from the Rev Francis Kilvert, writing in his diary on New Year’s Day 1871:

My Mother, Peche and I sat up late last night to watch the old year out and the New Year in. The wind was in the North and the sound of the bells came faintly and muffled over the snow from Chippenham and Kington. We opened the dining room window to ‘loose in’ the sound of the chimes and ‘the New Year’ as they say in Wales. It was bitter cold, but we went to the door, Perch and I, to hear better, I was carrying my travelling clock in my hand and as we stood on the terrace just outside the front door, the little clock struck midnight with its tinkling silvery bell in the keen frost. We thought we could hear three peals of Church bells, Chippenham, St Paul’s, and very faintly Kington. ‘Ring happy bells across the snow.’ (The Rev Francis Kilvert, Kilvert’s Diary)

Still in diary mode, let’s have a quiet evening in the company of Gladys Taber, who wrote Stillmeadow Daybook, a year-long account of her life on a Connecticut farm in the 1950s, . I suspect her views on New Year celebrations must have seemed old-fashioned even them but I think she’s absolutely right.

Seeing the new year in seems to involve much paper caps, night clubbing, and hangovers for some people. This is not my idea at all, never was. I wish to start my new year with a few people I dearly love, and in front of an apple wood fire, with bowls of popcorn and apples, and hot buttered rum, and Port Salut cheese and crisp crackers. And playing some good music, and reading aloud some choice bits. And feeling so secure in the fact that beginning a new year is a beginning with the same old friends.

Children Playing by Honor C Appleton.  

And here’s the opening lines from The Months by Sara Coleridge). It’s a very short couplet, but seems to be full of joy, and to capture the excitement of snow falling – justlike Honor Appleton’s painting,

January brings the snow, Makes our feet and fingers glow.

Just as enchanting is New Year arriving, in Alison Uttley’s The Country Child, which I love now as much as I did when I was young.

The New Year hung in the air, hovering with wings outstretched above the farm, carrying joy and sorrow in its feathers, waiting, waiting for the big clock to strike twelve. Dan stood outside with his coat-collar up, shivering in the steely air, staring up at the sky and across the vast dark to the hills. The New Year shook and swooped down as the clock began to strike. Dan opened the door and entered as the last stroke died away, and the year flew in, filling the house at once, from the empty attics to the dairy where the milk froze in the pans.

The New Year hung in the air, hovering with wings outstretched above the farm, carrying joy and sorrow in its feathers, waiting, waiting for the big clock to strike twelve. Dan stood outside with his coat-collar up, shivering in the steely air, staring up at the sky and across the vast dark to the hills. The New Year shook and swooped down as the clock began to strike. Dan opened the door and entered as the last stroke died away, and the year flew in, filling the house at once, from the empty attics to the dairy where the milk froze in the pans.

Finally, there’s the strange landscape in Sylvia Plath’s New Year on Dartmoor – ‘awe full’ rather than awful perhaps. I don’t always like Plath’s work, she’s a little too dark or me, but I think this is wonderful.

This is newness : every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint’s falsetto. Only you
Don’t know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There’s no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new
To want the world in a glass hat.

3 Comments

    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post. I get the impreession that Sayers is out of fashion these days, which is a shame, because her plots and characters are so good, and Wimsey is such a wonderful creation.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful post this was. I loved reading it so much. I have seen The Nine Tailors, and I own the book. Every year I say I’m going to read it in January but some other book jumps in ahead. When you mentioned it, before I scrolled down and saw Gladys’ words, I was going to leave a comment that “Jill” always read it every winter! Why do you think DLS is out of fashion? I so love her. Maybe PBS or the BBC or both should make a new version of the Peter Wimsey mysteries, as they’ve done with All Creatures Great and Small, to bring new readers to her work.

    Like

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