Five hopeful poems to usher in the new year

Filipino revelers watch as fireworks light up the sky to welcome the new year at the seaside Mall of Asia in suburban Pasay city south of Manila in 2017.
(Bullit Marquez / Associated Press)

Even if you’re one of the nine or so people in the world who actually understand what “Auld Lang Syne” means, you have to admit that Robert Burns’ traditional New Year’s poem is getting a little old. Luckily, there are other poems you can use to pay tribute to the year that’s gone by and celebrate the potential of the one to come. Here are five poems that will help you say goodbye (or good riddance) to 2018, and welcome the arrival of 2019.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Burning the Old Year— “So much of any year is flammable,” San Antonio poet Nye writes in this wistful poem about the ephemeral nature of life. You might have a hard time finding anyone who’s going to miss 2018, but Nye’s poem is a lovely reflection on the things we have to leave behind, whether we want to or not. “Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,” she writes, “an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.”

Dorianne Laux, “Blossom” — This was a challenging year for some people, but in this poem, Laux suggests that we come to terms with our wounds and take any opportunity we can to move on:


“Say goodbye to disaster. Shake hands
with the unknown, what becomes
of us once we’ve been torn apart
and returned to our future, naked
and small, sewn back together
scar by scar.”

Evie Shockley, “on new year’s eve— Shockley, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her collection “semiautomatic,” is one of the country’s most accomplished poets. In this powerful poem, she considers the resolutions and promises that we make at the start of each new year:

”...we cosset the space

of a fey hour, anxious gods molding our
hoped-for adams with this temporal clay:
each of us edacious for shining or
rash enough to think sacrifice will stay

this fugacious time ...”

Joseph Brodsky, “1 January 1965 — The Russian-born Brodsky was one of America’s greatest poets, serving as U.S. poet laureate and winning the Nobel Prize in literature in 1987. In this poem, he urges those whose hearts have grown bitter to embrace their lives as a gift:

“It’s clear that you are now too old
to trust in good Saint Nick;
that it’s too late for miracles.
— But suddenly, lifting your eyes
to heaven’s light, you realize:
your life is a sheer gift.”

W.S. Merwin, “To the New Year— Author and environmental activist Merwin is possibly America’s greatest living poet. In this poem, he offers a reflection on the importance of keeping hope alive:

“so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible”