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

Poetic Spotlight: Ariwara no Narihira

Ariwara no Narihira

Ariwara no Narihira (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you ready for a real time warp? Heading back perhaps farther than we yet have before on the Waking Den’s scope of literary history, today all things poetic are revolving around a poet from the 9th Century–Japanese Waka (tanka) poet Ariwara no Narihira, a man of many works, and many titles.

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.

He was a noble of the highest order, the son of Princes and connected to Emperors. Though he appears not to have been terribly prominent on the political stage–it seems affairs, even back then, could do that to a person–what we do know of him indicates a man highly prone to the affections of the heart. In fact, he and his affairs are often believed to be at the heart of the Tales of Ise–a collection of Japanese tanka poems and narratives, of which Ariwara has been suggested as the otherwise nameless central character. Many of his waka poetry–tanka, a form generally subscribed to this structure: 5-7-5-7-7, typically done without rhyme–were included therein.

Is this not that moon?
And Spring: is as the Spring of old
Is it not?
Only this body of mine
Is as it ever was…

What we know for certain of Ariwara is that he has been included among the Japanese Six Best Waka Poets, and holds a place among the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. These lists, composed for imperial knowledge, still allow us to track some of the Japanese greats today.

Even when the gods

Held sway in the ancient days,

I have never heard

That water gleamed with autumn red

As it does in Tatta’s stream.

~Ariwara no Narihira

Poetic Spotlight: I have found what you are like

E.E. Cummings, full-length portrait, facing le...

E.E. Cummings, full-length portrait, facing left, wearing hat and coat / World-Telegram photo by Walter Albertin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many dabblers of the pen, poetry is a thing of strict forms and concentrated effort—a literary form of limitation that presses the writer to bear his or her most beautiful words to light through the overcoming of that struggle. Many of these forms, in turn, have been given differentiating names over the centuries–your sonnets, triolets, cinquains, etc. etc. Yet for every poet that adheres to such formulaic ventures, there is another that seems to exist to break the forms, to go their own path on the road to literature. While both are valid methods, the two sides have infuriated one another plenty over their long years together.

Few have provided more exasperation from fellow poets and the community at large than e.e. cummings. Though the man had his forms–truly, many of his poems are sonnets in fact–he also dabbled in the realms of freeverse, though it was his design and craft of his works-at-large that set brows furrowing. Words bounced about, periods interrupting sentences, commas and parentheses oh my oh my…he knew how to make the mind work for his pieces, in methods we now refer to often enough as “avant-garde.” Unconventional is about the best summary–anything more or anything less wouldn’t quite do the poet justice. He was a modernist, and often ruminated on topics of nature and death in his work. He also had something of a knack for “controversial” subject matter.

Remembered today as one of the foremost voices of the 20th century, cummings wrote somewhere in the ballpark of 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays before his death in 1962.

Today, we examine “i have found what you are like,” a piece that certainly showcases a bit of cummings unique style…

i have found what you are like

i have found what you are like
the rain,

        (Who feathers frightened fields
with the superior dust-of-sleep. wields

easily the pale club of the wind
and swirled justly souls of flower strike

the air in utterable coolness

deeds of green thrilling light
                              with thinned

newfragile yellows

                  lurch and.press

-in the woods


And the coolness of your smile is
stirringofbirds between my arms;but
i should rather than anything
have(almost when hugeness will shut
               your kiss

~ee cummings

Poetic Spotlight: The Works of Buson

Last week took us to China, on a journey of peach blossoms. This week, we cross the narrow divide between China and another nation of legendary poetic prowess, hopping seas and centuries to step into the island of Japan. Known best in western circles for its haikuand tanka, today I appropriately offer up a man regarded as one of the haiku masters: Yosa Buson.

Buson was a poet and painter from Japan’s Edo period (a period from roughly 1603 to 1868 dominated by the Tokugawa Shogunate). Born in what is now a suburb of Osaka, his was to be a life of learning and travel, wandering the northern lengths of Japan in the example of fellow poet Bashō, and even writing a travelogue called “The Narrow Road to the Interior.” He devoured poetry. He wrote poetry. He taught poetry. Today, he is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Edo period, and of Japan’s history-at-large.

This week, I offer you not one poem to devour, but four! Japanese haiku is powerful, after all, but short, and one brief piece I feel is not enough to give you a full taste of Buson’s power. So without further adieu, I offer you the English translations to some of this master’s works:

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

Blow of an ax,
pine scent,
the winter woods.

Blown from the west,
fallen leaves gather
in the east.

The short night–
broken, in the shallows,
a crescent moon.

~Yosa Buson

Also: Be sure to check out my guest blog today over at Jessica Kristie’s realm today, where I’m talking imagination for “Inspiring Ink.”