One of the best known literary quotes about the New Year comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Four Quartets”:
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
The invention of a new language is of course the ambition of poets.
Eliot meant well. He meant for us to recognize last year’s language didn’t get the job done–her words failed us. Surely a new voice will be better. Eliot was, among other things, a utopian fatalist. And Christian.
Is there a smattering of white privilege there? Yes, for if you hail from a historically marginalized background–if you’re black or queer or disabled or a woman or you’re all of these, if you’re a refugee, a child caged, you know that last year’s words were excellent. Black Lives Matter; Freedom Now; Me Too; Nothing About Us Without Us–these are the words we carried then and must carry now. And pronounce. Repeat.
I say old words are good words and they get the job done.
Here’s Susan Sontag:
“Kindness, kindness, kindness.
I want to make a New year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.”