At the Gate of the Year (reprinted)

Reprinted from an article by
By Christopher Howse12:01AM BST 16 Aug 2008  The Telegraph

One of the best known yet least known poems was published 100 years ago. It is the poem quoted by King George VI in his Christmas Day broadcast in 1939. It came at the end of the nine-minute broadcast:
I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”
May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.
The King’s broadcast was specifically Christian in content. He identified Christmas as “above all, the festival of peace”.
But Britain was of course at war (and, it is worth noting the obvious fact, obscured by hindsight, that at the time no one knew if Britain would win the war). “I believe from my heart,” George VI said, “that the cause which binds together my peoples and our gallant and faithful Allies is the cause of Christian civilisation.”
Read more from Christopher Howse
The mysterious-sounding words with which he finished the broadcast were by Minnie Haskins (1875-1957). They came from a poem of hers called “God Knows”, in a collection, The Desert, published in 1908. Neither the poem nor its author was well known.
Indeed, Miss Haskins did not realise the King was going to quote her words.
She didn’t hear the broadcast. “I heard the quotation read in a summary of the speech,” she told The Daily Telegraph the following day. “I thought the words sounded familiar and suddenly it dawned on me that they were out of my little book.”
The poem had been drawn to the King’s attention by Queen Elizabeth, the present Queen’s mother, and the lines were to be recited 63 years later at her own funeral. They were wisely chosen to stand on their own, for the remainder do not possess such a compelling quality.
Immediately after the lines that George VI quoted, the verse form changes:
So I went forth,
And finding the hand of God,
Trod gladly into the night.
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.
So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife of things,
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.
The final section runs:
God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature. In Him
All time hath full provision.
Then rest; until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise,
God’s thought around His creatures
Our minds shall fill.
This is reasonable, perhaps consoling, but it lacks the memorable imagery of “the man who stood at the Gate of the Year” – as if he were a figure familiar from myth.
I find that the poem is now often misquoted as “the one who stood”, a foolish attempt at gender neutrality which weakens the image.
Another error that has got abroad is that Minnie Haskins was an American. She was a grocer’s daughter brought up at Warmley, Bristol.
As a Congregationalist, she taught at a Sunday school there. It is said that the image in her poem came to her at Warmley when she was standing at an upstairs balcony window, looking down the lit driveway to the gate.
Minnie Haskins studied at the London School of Economics and taught in its social science department until 1944. She wrote chiefly on industry. She published two more volumes of poetry, Through Beds of Stone (1928) and A Few People (1932).
Pamela Emy, a former pupil of hers at the LSE, wrote to The Daily Telegraph in 2002: “My abiding memory is of her asking me in a tutorial, ‘And how is your personal philosophy getting along, Miss Emy?’ As a naive 20?year-old, I remember being somewhat floored.”

*********************************************************

A great reminder to us all as we start a new year:

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”
May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.

Advertisements

One thought on “At the Gate of the Year (reprinted)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s