Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Diggin' Poetry with the Rest of You

Lately several of my favorite bloggers have posted about poetry. I generally tell people I don't like poetry--I got burned out on it in my long-ago years as an English major in college. I don't read it as a leisure activity. Yet at times of high emotion or tragedy, I've found myself writing poetry. Poetry is the highest expression of the art of language, and good poets are the most skillful users of language. Perhaps at times that have intense meaning for us, we need to express ourselves within the discipline of poetry.

I recall several poems from my college years. My all-time favorite is "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, which I reproduce here. (It's long out of copyright because Arnold died 120 years ago.) It's easy to find on the Internet; I got it from

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand.
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægæan, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


Charles Gramlich said...

Very powerful, but very melancholy. I can see how this would have a powerful effect.

Lisa said...

What a wonderful piece. I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction where I think/assume I don't like poetry, but actually I think I really do. I think I'm just intimidated by it. A lot of it, I don't understand, but a lot of it I do. I'm hoping that if I start to read it, that I'll feel more comfortable with it and surely, the imagery and the rhythms might have an accidental influence on my prose (I hope!). Thanks for posting this in its entirety.

cs harris said...

I looked this up after you mentioned it, because I wasn't familiar with it. I'm not sure if I have a favorite poem. I do really like the John Donne poem I used in Mermaids, although some might not appreciate the use I made of it!

Steve Malley said...

I like poetry, in small and measured doses. A poem a night, at most two, and I feel enriched.

More than that, I get 'poem-burn'. Not only do I stop getting the good from what I read, I lose that initial frisson I got with the first ones...

Rae Ann Parker said...

I live with two poetry lovers who study the craft and pen their own poems. I usually get my poetry second-hand from them when they read aloud a favorite poem at the dinner table.