A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Poem of the Day: Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach 

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 Aegean, 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 

A great poem, perhaps the only great poem Arnold ever wrote. And a quintessentially Victorian one in its disillusionment and its mourning for lost belief. Still, Anthony Hecht's cheeky response to the poem deftly takes the wind out of Arnold's rhetorical sails:

The Dover Bitch: A Criticism of Life 

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl 
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them, 
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me, 
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad 
All over, etc., etc."
Well, now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read 
Sophocles in a fairly good translation 
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea, 
But all the time he was talking she had in mind 
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like 
On the back of her neck. She told me later on 
That after a while she got to looking out 
At the lights across the channel, and felt really sad, 
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds 
And blandishments in French and the perfumes 
And then she got really angry. To have been brought 
All the way down from London, and then be addressed 
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty. 
Anyway, she watched him pace the room 
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit, 
And then she said one or two unprintable things. 
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is, 
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while 
And she always treats me right. We have a drink 
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year 
Before I see her again, but there she is, 
Running to fat, but dependable a they come, 
And sometimes I  bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour.
--Anthony Hecht

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