On New Years Eve a group of us will gather in the mediaeval Bell Tower of St. Edward’s church in Cambridge to pray, and reflect, and to ring in the new year. We will be participating in a long tradition. George Herbert imagined Prayer itself as ‘Church Bells beyond the stars heard’ and the great turning point in In Memoriam, Tennyson’s great exploration of time and eternity, mortality and resurrection, doubt and faith, comes with the ringing of bells for the new year and his famous and beautiful lines beginning ‘Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,’ and concluding:
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. (For more of this passage and my talks on Tennyson click Here)
I love to hear our bells, the oldest of which has chimed in our tower since the fifteenth century, and so I have made my own small contribution to the poetry and meaning of bell ringing in the following sonnet, which is taken from my collection ‘Sounding the Seasons’
As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or pressing the ‘play’ button.
New Year’s Day: Church Bells
Not the bleak speak of mobile messages,
The soft chime of synthesised reminders,
Not texts, not pagers, data packages,
Not satnav or locators ever find us
As surely, soundly, deeply as these bells
That sound and find and call us all at once
‘Ears of my ears’ can hear, my body feels
This call to prayer that is itself a dance.
So ring them out in joy and jubilation,
Sound them in sorrow tolling for the lost,
O let them wake the church and rouse the nation,.
A sleeping lion stirred to life at last
Begin again they sing, again begin,
A ring and rhythm answered from within.