Poem-a-Day - "New Year’s Chimes" by Francis Thompson

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January 1, 2023

New Year’s Chimes

Francis Thompson

What is the song the stars sing?
    (And a million songs are as song of one.)
This is the song the stars sing:
    Sweeter song’s none.

One to set, and many to sing,
    (And a million songs are as song of one),
One to stand, and many to cling,
The many things, and the one Thing,
    The one that runs not, the many that run.

The ever new weaveth the ever old
    (And a million songs are as song of one)
Ever telling the never told;
The silver saith, and the said is gold,
    And done ever the never done.

The chase that’s chased is the Lord o’ the chase
(And a million songs are as song of one),
And the pursued cries on the race;
    And the hounds in leash are the hounds that run.

Hidden stars by the shown stars’ sheen;
    (And a million suns are but as one);
Colours unseen by the colours seen,
And sounds unheard heard sounds between,
    And a night is in the light of the sun.

An ambuscade of lights in night,
    (And a million secrets are but as one),
And a night is dark in the sun’s light,
    And a world in the world man looks upon.

Hidden stars by the shown stars’ wings,
    (And a million cycles are but as one),
And a world with unapparent strings
Knits the stimulant world of things;
    Behold, and vision thereof is none.

The world above in the world below,
    (And a million worlds are but as one),
And the One in all; as the sun’s strength so
Strives in all strength, glows in all glow
    Of the earth that wits not, and man thereon.

Braced in its own fourfold embrace
    (And a million strengths are as strength of one),
And round it all God’s arms of grace,
The world, so as the Vision says,
    Doth with great lightning-tramples run.

And thunder bruiteth into thunder,
    (And a million sounds are as sound of one),
From stellate peak to peak is tossed a voice of wonder,
And the height stoops down to the depths thereunder,
    And sun leans forth to his brother sun.

And the more ample years unfold
    (With a million songs as song of one),
A little new of the ever old,
A little told of the never told,
    Added act of the never done.

Loud the descant, and low the theme,
    (A million songs are as song of one)
And the dream of the world is dream in dream,
But the one Is is, or nought could seem;
    And the song runs round to the song begun.

This is the song the stars sing,
    (Tonèd all in time);
Tintinnabulous, tuned to ring
A multitudinous-single thing,
    (Rung all in rhyme).

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“New Year’s Chimes” was published in Francis Thompson’s collection New Poems (Copeland and Day, 1897). Charlton Miner Lewis, former Emily Sanford Professor of English literature and chair of the department of English at Yale University, writes in “Francis Thompson,” published in the The Yale Review vol. 4, no. 1 (October 1914), while giving consideration to Thompson’s particular sense of the religious, mystic, and spiritual in his poetry, that “[b]y calling his religion a passion of adoration and love, I mean also to distinguish Thompson from men whose religion is vivid and passionate belief. The assurances of Thompson’s creed have but very loose hold on his imagination, which goes a-straying in purely pagan ways. We find the thought of death, for instance, more easily associated with cypress trees and the grave’s quiet oblivion than with halleluiahs [sic] and palms. We find the Virgin invoked like a modernized Aphrodite Urania. . . . We find heaven charted in a Pre-Raphaelite manner not easily distinguishable from [Dante Gabriel] Rosetti’s. And one of the most occult of the later poems—‘New Year’s Chimes’—rings new changes on the very pagan pantheism of [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s ‘Brahma.’”

Francis Thompson

Francis Joseph Thompson, born on December 16, 1859, in Preston, Lancashire, England, is a poet best known for his poem “The Hound of Heaven.” His poetry, which often concerned or showed the influence of Roman Catholicism, is collected in Poems (Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1893), Sister Songs: An Offering to Two Sisters (Burns and Oates, 1895), and New Poems (Copeland and Day, 1897). He died on November 13, 1907.

New Poems

New Poems
(Copeland and Day, 1897)

“The Call of the Open” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
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“In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
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Thanks to Tyree Daye, author of Cardinal (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Daye’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year.
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