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CONFUSED ALARMS

One of my favourites poems is Dover Beach.

I read it first at school when I was fifteen.

It seemed a fine thing to have written –

evocative, erudite, sonorous,

personal. Matthew Arnold, the advocate

of ‘sweetness and light’, honeymooned abroad

the year of the Great Exhibition.

Returning to England they stayed the night

at the Lord Warden Hotel – before taking

the train to London – no doubt to recover

from the paddle steamer that ferried them

across the English Channel, a craft,

though independent of the wind, tossed

by the waves, whose swaddled passengers travelled

au dehors. The poem begins ‘The sea

is calm tonight.’ From his window he can see

across to the French coast where a light gleamed

briefly. He calls his wife to his side,

and they listen to ‘the grating roar’ of the tide,

the unceasing waves shifting the pebbles.

 

For Arnold Great Britain was not the land

of ingenuities the Crystal Palace

hymned but of Blake’s dark factories. ‘…the world

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain…’

What would he have thought of us who measure

this country’s wealth in Costa coffee spoons,

eschew the Europe whose cultural heritage

is ours, make dishonour a virtue,

and still send tens of thousands of children

hungry to shared beds in inadequate rooms!

‘And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.’

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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1 Response
  • John Huddart
    October 30, 2020

    Just so! How often we ignore how modern the Victorian poets were – so rapt by Eliot and his fellows were we.

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