Farewell Old Year.

Farewell old year, I watch thy form recede
With no regret, but wish thee better speed,
If with thee go the hindrances to good.
The lust of power and the thirst for blood.
Thou came amongst us with a gloomy brow,
When men were saying “We must live,” but how?
When Peace and Commerce sat with folded wings,
Grieving o’er man and man’s disorderings.
When thousands stood around the parish door,
Conditions levelled – all alike were poor -
Asking for help, such help [so] [few] can give
The honest labourer that he may live.
Across the Atlantic came the cannon’s boom,
[The] [demon] voice that broke the general gloom,
That told of war and war’s destructive train –
The levell’d homestead, and the firstborn slain.
Good God! that man should fight – aye bravely fight,
To rob another of his natural right;
To [hold in bondage] , as their proper place,
The helpless children of the negro race.
Departing year, take with [3 to 4 words illegible]
Unworthy heroes or heroic deed:
Young Freedom spurns such soldiers from his side,
The patriots laurel is to them denied.
Say, [ere] thou shakes the dust from off thy feet,
What other dangers have we yet to meet
From foes without or seeming friends within?
Shall sterling truth or smooth-tongued error win?
Will thy successor greet us sword in hand,
With legions armed to strike at his command?
Or will he bear the olive branch of peace,
And bid our hearts their anxious doubtings cease?
Thy lips are sealed, and yet methinks I see
Upon thy brow the hopeful prophecy
Of labour’s exaltation; [work to do]
In [more] abundance – wages for it too.
I see again the jenny and the loom
Their wonted round of industry resume;
The weekly wage, and not the weekly dole;
The workmen’s pay list, not the pauper’s roll.
Say not the picture [is] too highly drawn,
The straining eye can catch the breaking dawn
That soon [shall] burst to day – a [2 words illegible] [joy]
When idle hands again can find employ.
Hang up the holly and the mistletoe,
And kiss and laugh as ye were wont to do;
Lift up your heads, push round the wassail bowl,
And rub the rust from off each cank’ring soul.
Relief committees help us if you can,
That each may be a woman and a man;
For one brief hour let the skies be clear,
And social sunshine gild the coming year.

Title:Farewell Old Year

Author:Thomas Hodson

Publication:Ashton And Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:Dec 26th 1863

Keywords:morality, poverty, slavery, war, work


In a reflective poem marking the end of a difficult year, Thomas Hodson returns to the themes addressed in his earlier (1861) poem, “Give Us Our Daily Bread”, of the spread of poverty among a previously proud and independent workforce and the hope for some relief. The tone of the poem reflects the grind of ongoing suffering, for example in the repeated use of “gloom” and “gloomy.” Hodson’s earlier ambivalence towards the American conflict has also given way to much stronger views – though he expresses some admiration for the bravery of Confederate soldiers, he is horrified by the South’s efforts to maintain slavery. Abraham Lincoln’s explicit advocacy of emancipation in 1862 may well have been responsible for this clarification in Hodson’s views. Hodson’s reference to “The helpless children of the negro race” would not have been deemed problematic at the time, with both the use of the word “negro” and the paternalist tone being common in British abolitionist discourse of the period. Like “Give Us Our Daily Bread”, the poem moves from a sombre to an optimistic tone, ending with hopes that the new year will bring peace, renewed industrial prosperity, and generous relief for Lancashire’s working people. – RM.

The fifty-two line poem is arranged in thirteen quatrains written in rhyming couplets. The metre is iambic pentameter and the diction, as so often with New Year poems of the period, is formal, indicating something of a valedictory address to the closing year as a personified entity. Other personifications include capitalised ‘Peace’ and ‘Commerce’, obviously equated in the speaker’s mind as co-dependent in this case.- SR