The Passing of the Year
How we cite our quotes:
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
You falter as a Sage in pain; (lines 13-14)
Here's where we start to really get to know the Old Year as a character. Our speaker focuses carefully on his appearance, maybe to help us get used to this transformation of an idea into a person. When we read these lines, we think of an old man, doubled over, leaning on a cane, and grimacing a little as he walks. We think the speaker really wants to emphasize this feeling of age and wear and tiredness, because that's what he's trying to shake off as the year changes.
That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
Let us all read, whate'er the cost: (lines 17-18)
The "Old Year" is a character, for sure, since he walks around, and has a face and an expression. Maybe he's not exactly like a person, though. Or at least not like someone you could just hang out and have a good time with. In a way, the more we learn about his appearance, the less we know. In this moment, we really have a sense of him being far away and hard to read. It's a bit of a paradox, since usually personification like this is used to make abstract ideas like the year seem closer and more relatable. In this case, it's hard to tell who this guy is, and how exactly we're supposed to feel about him.
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
What hath the Old Year meant to you? (lines 23-4)
Again, it's hard for us not to feel like these people the speaker is seeing are somehow not quite real, not quite fully human. We don't get their names, or any sense of what they do or where they come from. In this case, the young Maiden is reduced to one aspect of her appearance – her face. She's not called "Suzie," or "young woman." She is "girl-face." Guys, try calling your female friends that, and see how far you get. It's a little weird, right? Even as we look more closely at these people, there's still a strong sense of distance. We can't get past the surface.