Year’s End

by Richard Wilbur


Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.
I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.
There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii
The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
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15 Responses to Year’s End

  1. Lois Dorman says:

    How did you find this perfect New Year’s poem?

    “We fray into the future, rarely wrought
    Save in the tapestries of afterthought.”

    Here’s to tomorrow’s sun…

  2. Amy White says:

    What beautiful language, sound, imagery..
    but also the poem seems to move from something seasonal to something about death.
    These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
    Supposed to be a new year! Not just goodbye to the old (and done with)
    We reach a certain age and so it is!!!!
    Anyway, I do wish you a Happy New Year and thanks for your blog!
    Amy White

    • Liza says:

      I also think it is a poem about death. Years ago I heard Wilbur give a talk about Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods’ during which he made the case that it’s about the urge to commit suicide. I guess that’s fairly well known now, but it stunned me at the time. Now, though, I see how so much of Frost and Wilbur, too, is obsessed with death. Perhaps all great nature poets are just by definition. And on that happy note, I wish you a happy new year, Amy.

  3. annette shear says:

    settling down now, at year’s end, to rest and think about the year coming to a closing and wonder what the new year will bring: health and happiness for everyone I know and love.

    I wish you and Bill and your big family and bigger circle of friends a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    Thank you this year of very pleasant exchanges – please continue on and on…


    • Liza says:

      Thank you, Annette. It’s one of my favorite poems and probably one of the longest I have by heart. I memorized it during a particularly terrifying transatlantic flight when I was in school in Britain. It was a way of keeping my mind off the fact that the plane was lurching up and down and sideways for several hours. But now it’s a wonderful thing to have inside me — and am able take out like a blanket for comfort in times of need. Wishing you a wonderful year ahead!

  4. Beata M. Newman Scarpulla says:

    Dear Liza,

    What a wonderful poem, very much touched by the reference to Pompeii, where
    no new year will be theirs again. Never to complete their tasks or reflect on the past.
    Taken away from them, just like that.

    A new year filled with cheer and happiness to you and Bill.


    • Liza says:

      Yes, and I love “the little dog that lay curled and did not rise
      But slept the deeper as the ashes rose.” It’t the details that break your heart.

  5. judy buck says:

    Tapestries of afterthought; yes I know what that is. Thank you Liza, again. Happy 2015 to you and Bill.

  6. Doris van Ostenbridge says:

    This is a beautiful poem. It deserves to be read and re-read again and again. Life is fragile and we need to embrace it. Blessed New Year to you and all the special in your life!

    • Liza says:

      Thank you, Doris. I agree it is worth re-reading — which I try to remember to do at this time every year. Wishing you and your family a wonderful 2015.

  7. MARKS says:


    • Liza says:

      It’s actually Riverside Park, looking south from about 114th Street. I took it several years ago during a huge blizzard. I loved the diminishing perceptive and the person way off in the distance — the future, I guess, or is it the past?

  8. Carole Hansen says:

    After reading a poem I feel satisfied, the same as a good story coming to an end. This poem leaves me feeling differently – I want it to continue…in some sense arguing with the poem’s message that end (or death) is what it is. I found a solution. I went back and read it again…

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