The poem centres around the narrator’s appreciation of the past year; their “grateful tribute” to the past months of which the experiences allowed them to find peace and contentment in their life.
This positivity is immediately apparent from the fact that the poem takes the form of an ode – a poetic form that allows for reflection and thanks to be paid to an object, person or event; in this case the year of 1787. Unlike a Pindaric ode, which involves a large body of people, often making use of a chorus, this Horation ode is much simpler, and succeeds in conveying personal appreciation as a result.
Indeed, the poet apostrophises the year, as is exemplified by the title, “To The Old Year, 1787,” conveying great sentimental value of the year in doing so. This idea is further supported by the concluding lines of the opening stanza: “I sing, in strains sincere, /A grateful tribute due to the departed year.” In this example, the sibilance employed on the “s” sound conveys the sweetness of the year, and the poet’s pleasure in recalling the events that passed in the previous twelve months.
Through language techniques, we are provided with the time needed for such reflection and appreciation of the ideas being addressed by the narrator. This is apparent in the line, “They gave me health, and peace, and ease,” as the syndetic listing, makes use of the conjunction “and,” slows the pace of the line. It could be read as a representation of the ode and its purpose – that of taking the time to study and evaluate our lives. Furthermore, it emphasises how much the poet has gained from the year; having received these “gifts” from the months.
In reference to these “gifts,” the poet employs a rhetorical question to engage the reader in this practice of evaluation, as they are invited to ask themselves, “Who would not sing for gifts like these?” This language technique is used to great effect in this ode, as it highlights the generosity of the year, and thus the generosity of the poet.
The personification of the year is inescapable as the poet implies its generosity in giving them these gifts. It is similarly used to characterise time, as we are presented with the revelation “He steals away the rose…But then the thorn is blunted too.” This use of personification implies the strength and power of time, as it takes away beauty with age. However, the latter part of the quote suggests that life’s tribulations lessen with age. This sentimentality, a characteristic of an ode, comes as a result of this reflection on the past year, and we see the poet accepting of change and time passing with this example. It could have been assumed that with such adoration of the past year, they would be unwilling to move on from it, but here we are shown that this is not the case.
Moreover, this acceptance of life continually moving is implied through use of the metaphor of a chain: the “polish’d link of time’s eternal chain.” We can interpret this as a representation of life, potentially as each link is another section of life, another experience added. On the other hand, it can similarly provide context – that of the value for such an item – so as for the reader to understand the value of the year to the poet.
The inclusion of a simple rhyme scheme, structured aabbcc, is suggestive of the positivity of the author. A striking example of a rhyming couplet comes as “illusions fly” is rhymed with “chimeras die.” Like the metaphor of life as a chain, this example of rhyme implies that success can be achieved – as “illusions fly” – when the “imagination’s vain chimeras die.” Essentially, the poet reiterates the message of all experiences contributing to the life we lead.
Of these experiences, the poet makes reference with the line, “The bitter griefs, the fleeting joys.” This juxtaposition of positivity and negativity is a realistic representation of life but, more importantly, shows that satisfaction can be gained despite any set backs in life.
Indeed, this satisfaction is reiterated at the close of the poem in the final stanza, as the poet repeats, “Joyful I sing, in strains sincere.” However, the addition of the adjective “joyful” must be noted here as it shows the pure happiness that has been gained from the reflection of the year, intensifying the emotions of the poem.