'New Year's Eve' by Robert W. Service

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It's cruel cold on the water-front, silent and dark and drear;
Only the black tide weltering, only the hissing snow;
And I, alone, like a storm-tossed wreck, on this night of the glad New Year,
Shuffling along in the icy wind, ghastly and gaunt and slow.

They're playing a tune in McGuffy's saloon, and it's cheery and bright in there
(God! but I'm weak -- since the bitter dawn, and never a bite of food);
I'll just go over and slip inside -- I mustn't give way to despair --
Perhaps I can bum a little booze if the boys are feeling good.

They'll jeer at me, and they'll sneer at me, and they'll call me a whiskey soak;
("Have a drink? Well, thankee kindly, sir, I don't mind if I do.")
A drivelling, dirty, gin-joint fiend, the butt of the bar-room joke;
Sunk and sodden and hopeless -- "Another? Well, here's to you!"

McGuffy is showing a bunch of the boys how Bob Fitzsimmons hit;
The barman is talking of Tammany Hall, and why the ward boss got fired.
I'll just sneak into a corner and they'll let me alone a bit;
The room is reeling round and round. . . O God! but I'm tired, I'm tired. . . .

Roses she wore on her breast that night. Oh, but their scent was sweet!
Alone we sat on the balcony, and the fan-palms arched above;
The witching strain of a waltz by Strauss came up to our cool retreat,
And I prisoned her little hand in mine, and I whispered my plea of love.

Then sudden the laughter died on her lips, and lowly she bent her head;
And oh, there came in the deep, dark eyes a look that was heaven to see;
And the moments went, and I waited there, and never a word was said,
And she plucked from her bosom a rose of red and shyly gave it to me.

Then the music swelled to a crash of joy, and the lights blazed up like day,
And I held her fast to my throbbing heart, and I kissed her bonny brow.
"She is mine, she is mine for evermore!" the violins seemed to say,
And the bells were ringing the New Year in -- O God! I can hear them now.

Don't you remember that long, last waltz, with its sobbing, sad refrain?
Don't you remember that last good-by, and the dear eyes dim with tears?
Don't you remember that golden dream, with never a hint of pain,
Of lives that would blend like an angel-song in the bliss of the coming years?

Oh, what have I lost! What have I lost! Ethel, forgive, forgive!
The red, red rose is faded now, and it's fifty years ago.
'Twere better to die a thousand deaths than live each day as I live!
I have sinned, I have sunk to the lowest depths -- but oh, I have suffered so!

Hark! Oh, hark! I can hear the bells!. . .Look! I can see her there,
Fair as a dream. . .but it fades. . .And now -- I can hear the dreadful hum
Of the crowded court. . .See! the Judge looks down. . . NOT GUILTY, my Lord, I swear. . .
The bells -- I can hear the bells again!. . . Ethel, I come, I come!. . .

"Rouse up, old man, it's twelve o'clock. You can't sleep here, you know.
Say! ain't you got no sentiment? Lift up your muddled head;
Have a drink to the glad New Year, a drop before you go --
You darned old dirty hobo. . .My God! Here, boys! He's DEAD!"

Editor 1 Interpretation

Interpreting the Classic Poem, New Year's Eve by Robert W. Service

Are you ready to dive deep into the world of Robert W. Service's classic poem, New Year's Eve? This poem has been captivating readers for over a century with its vivid imagery, powerful emotions, and timeless themes. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the poem's meaning, structure, language, and historical context to uncover the secrets of its enduring popularity.

The Poem's Meaning

At its core, New Year's Eve is a poem about time, mortality, and the human experience. The speaker of the poem, who we can assume is Service himself, reflects on the passing of the year and the inevitability of death. He contemplates the fleeting nature of life, the memories we leave behind, and the hope for the future.

The poem begins with a description of the winter landscape, with its "icy fingers" and "drifting snow." The speaker is alone, with only his thoughts and memories to keep him company. He imagines the ghosts of past New Year's Eves, "a thousand thousand slimy things" that crawl out of the "frosty silence" to haunt him. These ghosts represent the memories of the past year, both good and bad, that have shaped his life.

But the speaker does not dwell on the past for long. He turns his attention to the present moment, to the "tinkling crystal" of the falling snow, the "slumberous smoke" rising from chimneys, and the distant bells ringing in the New Year. He recognizes that this moment, this "twixt-year pause," is a liminal space, a time between the old and the new, between life and death.

The poem reaches its emotional climax in the third stanza, where the speaker confronts the reality of mortality. He imagines his own death, and the regret and sorrow that will accompany it. He regrets the things he has not done, the love he has not given, and the songs he has not sung. But even in the face of death, he holds onto hope. He knows that life is fleeting, but he also knows that he has lived, and that his life has been worth something.

The poem ends on a note of hope and determination. The speaker resolves to make the most of the time he has left, to "sing my song, and greet the dawn." He recognizes that life is a journey, with its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows. But he also knows that it is a journey worth taking, a journey that leads to a brighter tomorrow.

The Poem's Structure

New Year's Eve is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and structure. The poem follows the traditional structure of an English sonnet, with three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a final couplet (two-line stanza). The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which means that the first and third lines of each quatrain rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines. The final couplet rhymes with itself.

The sonnet form is well-suited to the poem's themes of time, mortality, and the human experience. The three quatrains allow the speaker to explore different aspects of these themes, while the final couplet provides a conclusion and resolution to the poem. The rhyme scheme adds to the poem's musicality, creating a sense of rhythm and flow that enhances the emotional impact of the words.

The Poem's Language

Service's use of language is one of the most striking features of the poem. His descriptions of the winter landscape are vivid and visceral, with phrases like "the moon like a rind of crystalline white," "the world a hush of silver-greys," and "icy fingers clutching at my throat." These images create a sense of coldness, isolation, and foreboding, which sets the tone for the rest of the poem.

Service's use of metaphor and imagery is also noteworthy. The ghosts that haunt the speaker represent the memories of the past, while the falling snow represents the passage of time. The bells ringing in the New Year symbolize hope and renewal, while the speaker's own mortality is represented by the "knell of parting day." These metaphors and images add depth and richness to the poem, allowing the reader to connect with the speaker's emotions on a deeper level.

Service's use of language is also marked by its musicality. The poem is full of alliteration, assonance, and consonance, creating a sense of rhythm and flow that enhances the emotional impact of the words. Phrases like "the frosty silence" and "the slumberous smoke" create a sense of mood and atmosphere, while the repetition of "a thousand thousand slimy things" adds to the poem's sense of foreboding.

The Poem's Historical Context

New Year's Eve was first published in 1907, at a time when the world was on the brink of major social, political, and cultural changes. The early 20th century saw the rise of modernism, a movement that rejected traditional values and embraced new forms of art and literature. This movement was characterized by a sense of disillusionment with the past, a rejection of conventional morality, and a search for new ways of being in the world.

Service's poem reflects some of these modernist themes, particularly in its focus on the individual experience, its rejection of conventional norms, and its emphasis on the present moment. The speaker of the poem is alone, with only his thoughts and memories to keep him company. He rejects the ghosts of the past, recognizing that they have no place in the present moment. He embraces his own mortality, recognizing that it is a part of the human experience.

At the same time, Service's poem is also marked by a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality, which were common features of Victorian and Edwardian literature. The speaker of the poem reflects on the past year with a mixture of regret and fondness, recognizing that the memories he has created are a part of who he is. He also holds onto hope for the future, recognizing that even in the face of death, there is still the possibility of renewal and growth.


New Year's Eve is a classic poem that has stood the test of time for over a century. Its themes of time, mortality, and the human experience are universal, and its language and structure are masterful. Service's use of imagery and metaphor creates a sense of mood and atmosphere that draws the reader in, while his use of musicality adds to the poem's emotional impact. Whether read as a modernist or Victorian work, New Year's Eve remains a powerful and moving tribute to the human spirit, and a reminder of the importance of living in the moment.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry New Year's Eve: A Celebration of Life and Renewal

As the year comes to a close, we often find ourselves reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. It is a time of celebration, of letting go of the old and embracing the new. And what better way to capture the spirit of this moment than through the timeless words of Robert W. Service's "Poetry New Year's Eve."

This classic poem, first published in 1910, is a celebration of life and renewal. It speaks to the universal human experience of looking back on the past with both nostalgia and regret, while also looking forward with hope and anticipation. Service's words are both poignant and uplifting, reminding us of the beauty and fragility of life, and the importance of living each moment to the fullest.

The poem begins with a description of the scene on New Year's Eve, as people gather together to bid farewell to the old year and welcome in the new. Service paints a vivid picture of the festivities, with "the bells all ringing, the horns all blowing" and "the dancers whirl[ing] in the waltz's sweet measure." It is a time of joy and revelry, as people come together to celebrate the passing of time and the promise of the future.

But beneath the surface of this celebration lies a deeper sense of reflection and introspection. Service captures this beautifully in the second stanza, as he describes the "ghosts of the past" that haunt us on this night. Memories of loved ones lost, of missed opportunities and regrets, all come flooding back as we look back on the year that has passed. But even as we mourn what is gone, we are reminded of the preciousness of life and the need to make the most of every moment.

This theme of renewal and the fleeting nature of life is woven throughout the poem, as Service urges us to "live, love, and be happy" in the present moment. He reminds us that "life is a jest, and all things show it," and that we must seize the day and make the most of our time on earth. This message is particularly poignant in the final stanza, as Service describes the passing of time and the inevitability of death. But even in the face of this, he urges us to "sing as we go" and to embrace life with all its joys and sorrows.

One of the most striking aspects of "Poetry New Year's Eve" is the way in which Service uses language to capture the mood and atmosphere of the poem. His use of vivid imagery, such as "the bells all ringing" and "the dancers whirl[ing] in the waltz's sweet measure," creates a sense of excitement and celebration. But he also uses more somber language to capture the sense of reflection and introspection that characterizes the night, such as "the ghosts of the past" and "the shadows of sorrow."

Service's use of rhyme and meter also adds to the poem's sense of rhythm and flow. The AABB rhyme scheme creates a sense of symmetry and balance, while the use of iambic tetrameter gives the poem a sense of momentum and energy. This creates a sense of movement and progression, as the poem moves from the excitement of the celebration to the more introspective moments of reflection and renewal.

Overall, "Poetry New Year's Eve" is a timeless celebration of life and renewal. It captures the universal human experience of looking back on the past with both nostalgia and regret, while also looking forward with hope and anticipation. Service's words are both poignant and uplifting, reminding us of the beauty and fragility of life, and the importance of living each moment to the fullest. As we celebrate the passing of another year and look forward to the future, let us take these words to heart and embrace life with all its joys and sorrows.

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