Thursday, May 04, 2006

Of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling

Now I know where I'm going to go for grad school, and I'm happy about that, and happy about the program. I can't believe people are going to pay me so much money to study and write poetry. So much for it being a totally devalued art form, I guess. Go patrons.

I also got a scholarship that will allow me to go back to Rome next summer, I think. That will be really good. I miss Rome so much.

This summer I think I'll spend a lot of time on the beach, in order to make up for the lack of Rome. (This involves poking about in mud and sand and looking at invertebrates, not lying in the sand working on my melanoma. Italy involved beach observations too, except it was a different beach, and the water was pretty warm. There was black and gold sand, and smooth rocks that clattered, and I let the waves wash me up on them like a mermaid.

In Nice the rocks were so much larger, and clattered louder. Sucked backwards and forwards, falling off steeply at the tide's edge. Made me think of Matthew Arnold's poem, Dover Beach. But the first couple of stanzas aren't the best part of the poem. I've tried to memorize it a couple of times. The last stanza is the one that punches you in the chest, and the one that he wrote first. I first read it in Fahrenheit 451, when I was what, eleven? It hurt me then like it hurt them all, the women whose upper soul-layers were evaporated like steam under the heat, hurt in the good way that good poetry does. A few years later, having reread the book maybe, I asked my English teacher what the poem was (it was unaccredited in the book). Recently, I don't remember how or where, I found out that Arnold wrote that last stanza first. I'm not sure why he bothered to add the first couple of stanzas. It would have been great with just those last two:

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.

Maybe it was too much, that stanza alone, like a bolt out of the dark. He wanted to ease you into it, wavelets before the crash. Maybe "The Sea of Faith/Was once, too," without an explicit reference, would have bothered him, or grated against the prevailing styles.

(But I feel relatively ignorant about other poets' work, the history of poetry and its criticism and so forth, compared to my peers. I'm afraid that that doesn't interest me as much as writing itself does.)