We spend a ton of time in "The Passing of the Year" looking at people and trying to guess what they might be thinking or feeling. Your kindergarten teacher probably always told you not to judge a book by its cover. Still, that's exactly what we're doing here, right? Analyzing appearances, the way people look, is a totally central part of how this poem works.
The presence of a crowd of silent, staring, mysterious figures in this poem creates a feeling of deep isolation and loneliness that never quite goes away.
While we see a number of people in this poem, the dream-like, imaginary feeling makes it impossible to really know anything about them. This is a poem filled with illusions and phantoms, not breathing, living people.
Well, maybe this seems a little obvious for a poem about New Year's, but we just had to get it in here. Without the idea of the passing of time and the feelings that go along with it, this poem just couldn't exist. "The Passing of the Year" is all about change, what it feels like to go from one moment to the other. Time is always flowing past us, but New Year's is one moment where we can pause and think about it. Yes, we know – deep thoughts.
"The Passing of the Year" compresses all the emotion of a year into a single moment. In doing so, it allows us to feel many complex, contradictory feelings at the same time.
Service uses his poem to expand a fleeting thought about the end of the year. His epic metaphor gives that brief idea lasting, substantial power.
We think "The Passing of the Year" is kind of a sad poem. OK, not a cry-your-eyes-out bummer from beginning to end, but it's a little blue. Most of the emotions it deals with have to do with regret, loss, and the pain of memory. We here at Shmoop don't want to bring you down, but sadness is a big part of life, and Service dives right into it here.
Although the final lines appear to end the poem on a happy note, they can't erase the weight of sadness that has built up throughout the poem.
The poem carefully balances happiness and sadness. This creates a complex, subtle mixture that gives the poem its emotional power.
So, about that theater metaphor. You know, the one where the speaker pretends that the passing of the year is like the end of a play? The one that basically takes over the entire poem? Well, seems like we have to mention it here. The idea of the theater, of acting and watching plays, pulls the whole poem together and provides its shape.
Service uses the idea of a theater audience, not just to make things more dramatic, but also to make us think about how we read poems. The way we all "watch" the speaker as he delivers his monologue makes us a lot like a theater audience.
This poem achieves its effect by blending the very private world of the house with the totally public world of the theater. This allows a pretty short poem to say a lot about many kinds of human emotion.
Even though "The Passing of the Year" is about the moment when the old year changes into the new one, it doesn't really have that much to say about the future. For the most part, our speaker seems to be kind of stuck in the past. He's going over memories from the last year – his own and other people's. For the most part, things don't seem to have gone all that well. Let's just say we hope you had a better last year than most of these folks.
"The Passing of the Year" is about the pain and difficulty of the passage of time. The text is an elaborate cover for the narrator's refusal to let go of the past.
The poem offers the speaker a chance to process his thoughts about the year. That work then allows him to come to his calm, final farewell to the past.