Saturday, December 24, 2016

Confusing Alarms of Struggle and Flight

In times when the bedrock principles of the nation are eroding and a darkling peril destroys the indeterminate future, some Americans find solace and threads of comprehension in poetry.

After the 9.11 attacks on the Twin Towers, W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939 " was rediscovered. It reflects upon the slakeless insanity let slip upon the world. Good men had done nothing. The worst, given license in the shade cast by a tyrant, now may thieve with meretricious euphoria.

In 1939 the world was enveloped by insanity and the US on a deferment to be counted in days.

So it is at our gates again.

Here is the poem "Dover Beach" written by Matthew Arnold in 1867,  about one hundred fifty years ago.

The sea is calm tonight.
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-blanched 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 Aegean, 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 furled.
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.
Merry Christmas from a day not unlike December 25th, 1941. 

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