December 31 - Out with the Old, In with the New

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On December 31, 1897, Alice Ruth Moore in West Medford, Massachusetts, wrote a wistful letter to her fiancé Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C.  They had been engaged for more than ten months, but couldn't afford to get married and had no definite wedding plans.

This is the last day of the old year, a year that will always be memorable to me as the one in which I met my Paul and was wooed and won by him.  Somehow I feel very serious this morning, I don't know why, unless it be the thoughts of the new year coming in with its unknown possibilities.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, December 31, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Alice met Paul face to face for the first time in February 1897 and they became engaged that same night.  Alice wrote to Paul again on New Year's Day, referring to him as her husband even though they were not yet married.

The last letter I wrote last year was to you and the first one this year is to you.  A happy New Year to you, my husband, and may it be a bright, happy one with a cheerful outlook for a stronger, truer, better Paul.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, January 1, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Paul wrote to Alice the following day, expressing his strong affection for her.  About two months later, they had an impromptu (and secret) wedding in New York City.

After a quietly pleasant New Year's day, I am resting for my work tomorrow.  Everything goes on as well as could be expected.  How I longed for you to be here.  That will be a proud and happy day when I lead you out before the world and say, "Behold her, she is mine -- all mine."  Alice, my darling -- my love for you is so changed.  It has broadened and deepened.  It is no longer a mad rushing torrent.  It is a placid stream whose depths mirror the tranquil beauties of Heaven.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, January 2, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Both Alice and Paul wrote poems about the passing of one year and the promise of the coming year.

Oh, New Year, youth of promise fair!
What dost thou hold for me?  An aching heart?
Or eyes burnt blind by unshed tears?  Or stabs
More keen because unseen?
Nay, nay, dear youth, I've had surfeit
Of sorrow's feast.  The monarch dead
Did rule me with an iron hand.  Be thou a friend,
A tender, loving king -- and let me know
The ripe, full sweetness of a happy year.


Excerpt from "New Year's Day" by Alice Ruth Moore.  Published in Violets and Other Tales.  The Monthly Review (Boston, Massachusetts). 1895.  Page 108.

Aye, lay him in his grave, the old dead year!
His life is lived -- fulfilled his destiny.
Have you for him no sad, regretful tear
To drop beside the cold, unfollowed bier?
Can you not pay the tribute of a sigh?


Was he not kind to you, this dead old year?
Did he not give enough of earthly store?
Enough of love, and laughter, and good cheer?
Have not the skies you scanned sometimes been clear?
How, then, of him who dies, could you ask more?

Excerpt from "The King is Dead," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899).