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Year's End

Now winter downs the dying of the year, And night is all a settlement of snow;

From the soft street the rooms of houses show

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A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,

Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin

And still allows some stirring down within.

I've known the wind by water banks to shake

The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell

And held in ice as dancers in a spell

Fluttered all winter long into a lake;

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Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,

They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns

Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone

A million years. Great mammoths overthrown

Composedly have made their long sojourns,

Like palaces of patience, in the gray

And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise

But slept the deeper as the ashes rose

And found the people incomplete, and froze

The random hands, the loose unready eyes

Of men expecting yet another sun

To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.

We fray into the future, rarely wrought

Save in the tapestries of afterthought.

More time, more time. Barrages of applause

Come muffled from a buried radio.

The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

``Year's End'' from ``Ceremony and Other Poems,'' copyright 1950 and renewed in 1978 by Richard Wilbur and reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., originally appeared in the New Yorker.

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