Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, January 6, 2008

The turn of a new year, along with giddy celebrations and improving resolutions, brings with it a focus on how time rushes along, compressing childhood and age like the barrels of a telescope. At the turn of the year, we may prance and play like toddlers, or we may hunker down protectively, hoping to evade the bearded figure with his scythe and hourglass. In the cycle of new and old, fresh and familiar, there's something exciting, but also a little grotesque, about the brassy feel of a freshly minted number: the newborn "2008" so strange at first that we fail to write it on our checks. Within a week or so, the new number begins to mellow, as we get on with our business.

The English poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) describes a New Year's Day encounter that includes many of these elements: giddiness and the grotesque, childhood and old age, convention and idiosyncrasy, the outlandish and the familiar:

The New Year

He was the one man I met up in the woods

That stormy New Year's morning; and at first sight,

Fifty yards off, I could not tell how much

Of the strange tripod was a man. His body,

Bowed horizontal, was supported equally

By legs at one end, by a rake at the other:

Thus he rested, far less like a man than

His wheel-barrow in profile was like a pig.

But when I saw it was an old man bent,

At the same moment came into my mind

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