Sunday, 13 May 2007

Where ignorant armies clash by night

…really neither joy, nor love, nor light
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain

If you are standing on the deck of a cross channel ferry headed for France and looking back to land then I reckon that Shakespeare takes the left cliff, Auden (and Isherwood) take the harbour, and the right cliff belongs (in literary terms, for it will also always be Churchill’s spot as well) to the Victorian poet and critic, Matthew Arnold.

Dover Beach is such a well-known and anthologized poem in the English Canon that it is a cliché inclusion here; yet it is a marvellous work that towards its conclusion moves us to wonder how we continue to get things so wrong. The poem is 140 years old this summer. Perhaps the only time I've not fully appreciated Dover Beach was the poem's stagey appearance at the end of Saturday, Ian McEwan's Waitrose rewrite of Ulysses. If I am seeking anything on this journey it is a vision of humanity as far from the cloisters of McEwan's Fitzroy square as it is possible to go.

No comments: