“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, “Dover Beach”
The prophetic quality of Arnold’s “Dover Beach” finds detailed examples in Sparh’s poem “January 28, 2003”. Arnold describes human suffering by assessing life as one living in the Victorian age; an analysis that extends to a general assessment of the life as a human being. He transcends time when he revitalizes Sophocles’ sadness long ago when faced with a similar sound of the rock shore; and again when he reviews the “sea of faith” culled in Medieval times; and again when he watches the sea of the poem’s present moment and feels the tides of humanity retreat and leave him and his lover on a plain where armies without sight rage war and kill.
Sparh supports Arnold’s assessment to understand contemporary times, describing the world as, “going on and on…having a list of adjectives to describe it, such as/various and beautiful and new, but neither life, nor certitude, nor peace exist” echoing verbatim Arnold’s sentiments. Sparh catalogs Scott Peterson’s wife and girlfriend, the shoe bomber, the crisis of oil wrecks, heart disease, and Afghans killed by US troops. In Arnold’s vision of a dislocated world, Sparh provides concrete examples of suffering and confused events. For Arnold there remains little redemption other than the breath of another as he holds tight to his beloved. And, like Arnold, Sparh forms a human connection by calling us together in cataloging our banal and nefarious facts of life we live with and exist with.
“Zoe Ball exists.
And Fatboy slim exists but now without Zoe Ball.”
Thus, our connection with the diverging events of the world provides nothing like certainty but rather a small understanding that with pain and confusion live facets of life that hold some type of difference from pain; maybe even, at times, hope and love, in the varied facts of the world; in the, “beautiful, clear day” and in the, “slight breeze…off the pacific”, and in the “morning and” its “simple morningness”.
Trent also noted Arnold’s presence, both in theme and in verbal echo, during class. He pointed to the phrase “amid ignorant armies and darkling plains.” It really is a very strong presence here.
Interestingly, when asked whether she had Whitman in mind when writing this book, she kind of shrugs and says she more of a Gertrude Stein modernist–and you do see a lot of Stein here in the way her prose unfolds in sometimes quirky, repetitive, but somehow fresh turns of phrase.