I am posting today one of my poems. But I believe a brief introduction is necessary to grasp the atmosphere of the poem properly.
Matthew Arnold was an English poet who lived in the 19th century. If you know anything about European and English history you would know that this was the time when the Industrial and Scientific revolutions were taking off and with this explosion of new society came more and more a rejection of traditional Christianity.
Arnold, living in this time, found himself in a unique situation. Raised as a Christian, he was connected to the older world where Christianity still held some strong sway among the masses and was the worldview underlying many assumptions. But he was watching this world pass away into a new society that he sensed rising up around him.
This society was the new world where faith would no longer have sway over the masses, but rather doubt. People would no longer live their lives based upon God and his laws, but rather science and man’s desires.
In probably his most known poem, “Dover Beach,” Arnold was able to show his unique perspective of a Christian watching his own culture, and his own faith, disappearing to doubt. The picture he uses is that of the retreating tide as the wind blows it off the shore and back into the sea. The sea retreats from the land of man for the land can no longer bare it.
Arnold seems sad about this, but he also seems to accept it. He does not fight for faith, but rather sadly admits that faith is no longer tenable. But when he looks at the world without faith he sees under its surface a joyless and peace-less world. On the surface the world without faith seems beautiful and free, but he realizes that under the surface, with the loss of faith comes the loss of hope and the loss of the basis for true joy and peace.
I always read this poem with sadness in my heart. And I always had a plan to write the poem from the opposite position. As one who had nothing but doubts, but who comes to the realization of the truth, veracity, and power of faith. Below I am giving you Arnold’s poem, “Dover Beach,” and then I follow this poem with my poem “Sangre De Cristo Mountains,” which is a sort of parody of Arnold’s poem.
And just in case you are wondering, the Sangre De Cristo Mountains are real mountains in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I grew up. So often I watched fires burn on those and other mountains that surround Santa Fe and thus I use the picture of a mountain fire to match Arnold’s picture of nature. I hope you enjoy the poem.
DOVER BEACH by Matthew Arnold
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 Agean, 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.
SANGRE DE CRISTO MOUNTAIN
The land is tense today.
Fires roar, as the Sun glares,
Upon the crooked plains, as water
Through the cracked earth begins to seep,
Trickling mildly across the raucous desert.
Get away from the window, smoky is the day wind!
From the ever present burning ash
That falls where the barren land meets the darkened sky.
Listen, and you will hear the silent crackling
Of twigs which the flame breathes upon,
Exhaling and inhaling until all has
Become part of its fierce life
And gives to the world the cheer of victory.
Abraham, long ago,
Heard it near the fields of Gomorrah,
And it assured his heart
That the judge of all the world
Would do righteously; we
Find also in the sound a thought.
The Fire of Faith
Had too seemed quenched, throughout the calm
Land, silent and apathetic like the lighting of a distant storm.
But now I hear it again—
It’s joyful, quick, lasting whisper
Charging at the command
Of the day wind, up the quaint center vibrant
And modest carpet of creation.
Ah, hate, let us be false
To one another! For the world which seems
To march before us like an ever-real sea of waves,
So uniform, so ugly, so old,
Is truly filled with joy, and love, and light,
And sovereignty, and peace, and restoration.
And we are here on a lit mountain,
Snuggled safely in the arms of a faithful mother
Singing ancient lullabies.