I received a wonderful Christmas gift from a dear friend a few days ago. First, I opened a lovely brass bell. Then a framed quotation from Alfred Tennyson’s famous song, Ring Out Wild Bells. She chose just these few ending lines:

            Ring in the valiant men and free,

            The larger heart, the kindlier hand,

            Ring out the darkness of the land;

            Ring in the Christ that is to be.

These familiar lines are sung in Latter-day Saint congregations around the world, as the New Year comes upon us.  But there’s more to the poem than the excerpts we sing. Tennyson, who penned these words the year he was made Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, was telling us to cast off the ugliness, the sadness, the bitterness– and embrace the newly changed self. Replace the negative with positive, and experience true spiritual renewal.

It’s the very message King Benjamin gave in the book of Mosiah (5:2), which Alma described (5:12-13), and which Samuel the Lamanite spoke of in Helaman (15:7). So many leaders, including our prophets and apostles today, have told us to repent and become new, shedding the “old man,” being born again, and adopting righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).

What a perfect message to ponder as we approach the New Year. Will this be the year when we remake ourselves? Will we leave our old, weak, and selfish dispositions behind, finally able to stop beating ourselves up for past mistakes that we’ve repented of?

Elder Richard G. Scott once said, “Don’t live your life in despair, feeling sorry for yourself because of the mistakes you’ve made. Let the sunshine in by doing the right things—now.”

As we try to let go of the things we don’t want to bring into the coming year, we can visualize a bell ringing us into a new frame of mind when we get stuck in the past. Paul wrote, “… this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.” (Philip. 3:13.) We must make a conscious, consistent effort, not merely wish it for a moment.

This song urges us to break free of the chains of grief and sorrow, allowing ourselves freedom, peace, and joy again. Other stanzas we don’t sing speak of ridding the world of “the feud of rich and poor,” “party strife,” “false pride,” “civic slander and the spite,” the “lust of gold” and “wars of old,” – things particularly timely today as well.

Though written as part of In Memoriam, Tennyson’s elegy to his sister’s fiancé who passed at the young age of 22, it has become an anthem to the need for real change, the need to look inside ourselves and banish, or ring out, old ways that hold us back.

He tells us to “ring in the nobler modes of life, with sweeter manners, purer laws…Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good.” 

The ending, of course, is most poignant as it refers to Christ. Some experts say Tennyson is reminding us that we can only achieve these improvements through the Savior, while others feel he was referring to the Second Coming. Either—or both—are good to contemplate as we approach the New Year and strive to be better.

Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be. 

Hilton is an award-winning playwright and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.