Poem of the Month: New Year Special

Welcome to the third poem of the month.

1st January 2020 marks the beginning of  a brand new decade and also heralds the coming of so much hope.

We all ring in the new year with promises and resolutions, leaving behind our losses and the things we didn’t do, promising that we will do better!

So this month, I chose a poem that expresses that hope and that promise so well.

Burning the Old Year
 Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597/burning-the-old-year

The metaphor of burning suffuses the poem. Though ironically it is a literal burning that the persona is engaging in: burning the letters, notes, incomplete poems etc. The action is very tangible and one that immediately connects with leaving behind everything unfortunate and old and stepping into the new, starting afresh.

The title also references the tradition of burning the old man during new year. Burning effigies to signify the burning of the past and also of evil is a common motif across cultures, one that resonates with the people’s need to dissolve their bad deeds and usher in goodness in their lives. This poem, however, depicts a burning of a personal nature rather than a symbolic one. No effigy is being burnt here but actual personal things to bid goodbye to the losses.

What do you think about the poem? Please share in the comments below!


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