Poetic Spotlight: Count That Day Lost

English: George Eliot

By Sir Frederick Burton: George Eliot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Mary Anne Evans, or rather, George Eliot as she is more likely to be known, was a writer’s writer of the 19th century–a scribbler, yes, but also a journalist and a translator as well. What’s more, her skill with a pen helped her to go on to be renowned as one of the foremost writers of the Victorian era.

 

First thing’s first: you may, in fact, be wondering about the rather stark difference of name. Yes, she was a female author that took upon herself a male pen name–an act, she noted, undertaken to guarantee her works would be taken seriously, and likely to safeguard her privacy as well. The limitations the stereotypes of gender put upon an author, she seemed to feel, were that women struck up romances, while men took up the loftier works of society–thank goodness time has beaten that engrained belief into a fine and scattered pulp.

 

Born to life on a farm, education was, for her, nevertheless a thing of voracious appetite. She devoured all that tutors, school, and her own explorations could unveil. Eventually, she would go on to editorship (officially, assistant editor–but she actually did most the running of the business) of The Westminster Review. Though she began to contribute pieces to this magazine, her works also began to make gradual prods out into the larger market. Success lay in her future, however–by the end of her days, Queen Victoria of England herself proved to be an avid reader and promoter of Eliot’s work by the end of her days.

 

Many of her works were rural in setting, and deeply psychological. She had a knack for character, and her methods and skill would go on to inspire future writers as well, Virginia Woolf among them.

 

Count That Day Lost

 

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went –
Then you may count that day well spent.

 

But if, through all the livelong day,
You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay –
If, through it all
You’ve nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face–
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost –
Then count that day as worse than lost.

 

~George Eliot

 

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Poetic Spotlight: Dover Beach

British poet and critic Matthew Arnold viewed ...

British poet and critic Matthew Arnold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s spotlight falls on British poet and critic Matthew Arnold. Though remembered today largely for his essays and his prose, it was his poetry that actually won him early acclaim. Religious, and the very picture of a proper British gentleman, one of his greatest desires was for new literature “to animate and ennoble” the readers of his time. A graduate of Oxford University, he would go on to be a teacher, and later, a government school inspector, and education, above all else, became one of the driving forces of Arnold’s life.

Many of his poems struck at social issues, and reflected rather clearly the values of the era, while others struggled with the concept of psychological isolation. It could be argued the man had a certain lofty sense of self, based on some of his written self-assessments, yet given the praise he garnered in a time of Victorian sensibility, it’s small wonder. Today, however, his poetry is mostly to be found in school anthologies, and as such, many students may remember today’s piece–”Dover Beach,” one of his most well-regarded pieces.

Dover Beach

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-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 A gaean, 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.

~Matthew Arnold

World Poetry, Part Four

For day four’s favorite poetry selection, I give you British poet Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress:”

Andrew Marvell, care of Wikimedia Commons.

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

~Andrew Marvell