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dome darkling“The dead also do not see, unless they look from a brighter place
than this darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night.”

These words leapt off page 439 of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, as they are almost an exact quote from Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach (see below). In that poem, Arnold is standing on the shale of the beach looking out at the light of the moon as it reflects across the English Channel and on the distant coast of France.

Similarly, the residents of Chester’s Mill are gazing up at the stars which have been distorted by the haze of the Dome, giving them a pink, streaked appearance, as if the stars are raining down upon them. In both instances, celestial phenomena prompt an observation on how small, and somewhat insignificant, people are compared to the greater world at large.

Arnold’s poem deals with a crisis of faith, and King’s narrator also seems to have lost faith in the society under the Dome. The Dover Beach quote is followed by a list of those who have died since the mysterious barrier came down, and then (spoiler alert!) cuts to the town’s first Dome-driven suicide.

Arnold seems to be searching for faith in human intimacy (“ah, love, let us be true to one another!”) despite a melancholy world that “hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light.” The people in Chester’s Mill appear to personify and magnify this outlook on humanity. Those who connect and support each other eventually become the only ones who have a chance. (A bit like “live together, die alone” from LOST—a quote which I kept expecting to appear in this book.) Dover Beach hints at dystopia and then King brings this to fruition Under the Dome.

The ‘darkling plain’ is also a loaded reference to Shakespeare’s King Lear, Act I Scene 4. Arnold certainly understood this, and I feel that King too is alluding to the Fool’s observation: “We were left darkling.”

The Fool has realized that Goneril is betraying her father, though Lear can’t bring himself to accept this, asking “Are you our daughter?” This is the moment when Lear begins to question his new situation and his new reality—the moment which ultimately kicks off his descent into madness and rage. Like Lear, the people of Chester’s Mill are going to face new unhinged reality and widespread madness.

Dover-Beach-bookDover Beach must be a favorite of King’s as he also references it in The Shining. Jack wanders around the Colorado Lounge thinking what it must have been like there celebrating there in 1945, “the war won, the future stretching ahead so various and new, like a land of dreams.” Here King is juxtaposing this hopefulness against Jack’s own Lear-like descent into madness.

Finally, it must be noted that in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Dover Beach is the poem that Guy Montag reads aloud in a desperate attempt to reach out to his wife and her friends. King was an unabashed fan of Bradbury’s, having stated “without Ray Bradbury, there would be no Stephen King.”

Dover Beach has long been one of my favorite poems for its complex tension of hope and despair—also the words are beautiful. It’s thrilling to think after more than a century, nearly two, a Victorian poet (who ironically was known for his concept of “sweetness and light”) could exact such an influence on writers like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury.

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

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-blanch’d 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 furl’d.
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.

Under the #DomeAlong

LOST Under the Dome

Under the Dome Update: Left Hanging

I’m Going Under the Dome for a Summer Readalong!

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beach winter 2Spring has taken its time. I went to the beach for Easter, but it was chilly, and the sun slanted across the sand at a winter angle. Today, the winds howl and the rains pour. I think of how, on a much colder day deep with snow, Emily Dickinson consoled herself with words and images of summer.

#342 by Emily Dickinson

It will be Summer — eventually.
Ladies — with parasols —
Sauntering Gentlemen — with Canes
And little Girls — with Dolls —

Will tint the pallid landscape —
As ’twere a bright Bouquet —
Tho’ drifted deep, in Parian —
The Village lies — today —

The Lilacs — bending many a year —
Will sway with purple load —
The Bees — will not despise the tune —
Their Forefathers — have hummed —

The Wild Rose — redden in the Bog —
The Aster — on the Hill
Her everlasting fashion — set —
And Covenant Gentians — frill —

Till Summer folds her miracle —
As Women — do — their Gown —
Or Priests — adjust the Symbols —
When Sacrament — is done —

April is National Poetry Month

Emily Dickinson Bio, Poems, & More via Poetry Foundation

Emily Dickinson Museum

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my daffodils

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
—William Wordsworth

The first daffodil stems in my yard peeked out auspiciously in early March, but have not made much progress since. Frankly, I am daffodil-starved. Thankfully, I can turn to these lovely poems, so “they flash upon that inward eye.” (Also, I picked up this bright, papery cluster—just $1.49/bunch at Trader Joe’s.)

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth

in time of daffodils, by e.e. cummings

 To Daffodils, by Robert Herrick

A Collection of Spring Poems, from the Editors at Poetry Foundation

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Many candles cropI can’t bear to turn on the news and see the small coffins. Or read about the fallen hero teachers. It’s devastating, unspeakable. But, I do think about them … as my dog plays with the kindergarteners at the bus stop, as I shop in the toy store for Christmas gifts, as I hug my nephews and nieces. My heart aches for the families going through all the funerals this week.

Reading poetry is what I do when my own words fail me. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa wrote “Rock Me Mercy” in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. You can hear him read it via NPR. California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera wrote “Little Ones We Carry You.” Herrera is also creating a Unity Poetry Wall in Newtown and accepting poetry submissions for via email juan.herrera@ucr.edu or his Facebook page.

One of the poems I’ve found most comforting in times of grief is Christina Rossetti’s “Remember.” Below, I’ve included “1914 IV. The Dead,” by Rupert Brooke. Written during World War I, the poem refers to slightly older children—young boys, young men—lost in war. Still, it evokes that feeling of lost promise and lost innocence. “All this is ended.”

1914 IV. The Dead, by Rupert Brooke

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
      Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
      And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
      Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
      Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
      Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
      Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.

Rock Me Mercy, by Yusef Komunyakaa

Little Ones We Carry You, by Juan Felipe Herrera

solitary candle cropRemember, by Christina Rossetti

Poet Rupert Brooke, Bio & Poems via Poetry Foundation

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Started my Readathon off right! Coffee and savoring a pore through the Sunday NY Times

I’m SO excited about the Dewey’s Read-a-thon on Saturday, Oct 13, starting at 12:00 pm GMT, which is 8:00  am EST in the US. Hundreds of people around the world will devote a whole day just to reading! If you are interested in joining, sign up here! Or you can sign up to be a Read-a-thon Cheerleader. Yes, it’s a sport and we have cheerleaders.

Make no mistake—these folks are not fooling around. They prepare meals in advance so they won’t have to take time off for cooking, and they stock up on caffeine to fuel them for 24 hours. Full disclosure: there are some people (like moi) who will take breaks and actually stop to sleep. But there are an impressive number of readers who go the distance. And they go through a crazy amount of books!

My Read-a-thon stack. JK!

I know because they post (via blogs and Twitter) pictures of the aforementioned swollen—towering—stacks of books. Check it out via #Dewey or #Readathon hashtags. Most impressive, and er, intimidating. Alas, I will be a teense of a Read-a-Thon slacker—hence my not-quite-a-stack, pictured right. It’s not by choice, but I have to work for several hours tomorrow. Also, I’ve had a trying couple of months in which I’ve only managed to sneak reading in hurried bursts on the subway, over lunch, or staying up late. It’s been so rushed, and, honestly, I’m just not in peak perusatory form.  (E.g., I’m pretty sure that’s not a word.)

But I want to join in spirit. So I am approaching the Read-a-Thon as an exercise in savoring the read, the peruse, the pore. I will take it slow and enjoy. On deck: one of my favorite poets—Edward Thomas, at times called the ‘British Robert Frost‘ (apologies to the Brits who would say Frost was the ‘American Thomas’). I’ll linger over his poems, like Adlestrop, October, and The Sun Used to Shine (about him and Frost).

Beyond that, I’m going to wing it from my embarrassingly-tall and not-shrinking-fast-enough TBR. Also, I am definitely going to allow myself a leisured, every-section read of the Sunday New York Times, which I haven’t had the luxury of enjoying in months. So instead of a marathon, for me, it will be like a fun run. A reading 5K, if you will. You don’t really need to train. You can just cruise along and enjoy the ride—or read.

Here We Go, Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2013

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon

Sign Up to Read

Read-a-thon Start Times

A Tribute to Dewey

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Tintern Abbey

Today (July 13) in 1798, William Wordsworth visited the scenic ruins of Tintern Abbey, on the banks of the River Wye, and was famously struck. The poet, on a walking tour of Wales with his sister Dorothy, spent the rest of the trail ruminating and conjuring the “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” in his head. Indeed, he was just finishing the last 20 lines as he walked down the hill into Bristol, some four or five days later. Wordsworth immediately sat down and wrote out the 1,200 words. The poem was then rushed to the printer so that it could be included in the Lyrical Ballads, his collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which became a seminal oeuvre of the Romantic movement.

It’s amazing to think that “Tintern Abbey” was such a last-minute addition, considering that it has become the most celebrated poem in the collection. Well, tied perhaps with Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” but certainly one of the most renown and influential examples of Romantic Poetry.

This was Wordsworth’s second visit to Tintern Abbey, as he had been there five years earlier. The beauty of the ruins and of the Welsh countryside spurred him to reflect on how much his life and his perceptions had changed. These “gleams of half-extinguished thought” on the natural sublime and on the transience of time continue to resonate. From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears” to Allen Ginsberg’s “Wales Visitation,” poets have followed Wordsworth’s words and his footsteps to Tintern Abbey. Ginsberg was reportedly also fueled by LSD during his visit, but he was a Beat Poet after all.

One of the most beautiful and haunting replies is Matthew Arnold’s“The Buried Life,” in which he pointedly writes of “an unspeakable desire after the knowledge of our buried life … a longing to inquire into the mystery of this heart which beats so wild, so deep in us.”

Also inspired by Wordsworth, the painter J.M.W. Turner did a series of stirring landscapes of Tintern Abbey, many of which are on view at The Tate and The British Museum, both in London. Still more than 200 years later, one of the most intimate ways to experience the beauty and the allure of Tintern Abbey is via Wordsworth’s reflection on “the still, sad music of humanity.”

Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

Tears, Idle Tears

Allen Ginsberg Reads “Wales Visitation”

William Wordsworth: Bio, Articles, and Poems at The Poetry Foundation

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A few roses are starting to come in a month early this year. Though they are pink, not white, I cannot but think of that wonderful quote by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “For if I wait … ‘till time for roses be, what glory then for me?” Here it is in the full context of the poem she wrote in honor of the early rose.

A Lay of the Early Rose

‘ . . . discordance that can accord.’
Romaunt of the Rose.

A ROSE once grew within
A garden April-green,
In her loneness, in her loneness,
And the fairer for that oneness.

A white rose delicate
On a tall bough and straight:
Early comer, early comer,
Never waiting for the summer.

Her pretty gestes did win
South winds to let her in,
In her loneness, in her loneness,
All the fairer for that oneness.

‘For if I wait,’ said she,
‘Till time for roses be,
For the moss-rose and the musk-rose,
Maiden-blush and royal-dusk rose,

‘What glory then for me
In such a company? –
Roses plenty, roses plenty
And one nightingale for twenty!

‘Nay, let me in,’ said she,
‘Before the rest are free,
In my loneness, in my loneness,
All the fairer for that oneness.

‘For I would lonely stand
Uplifting my white hand,
On a mission, on a mission,
To declare the coming vision.

‘Upon which lifted sign,
What worship will be mine?
What addressing, what caressing,
And what thanks and praise and blessing!

‘A windlike joy will rush
Through every tree and bush,
Bending softly in affection
And spontaneous benediction.

‘Insects, that only may
Live in a sunbright ray,
To my whiteness, to my whiteness,
Shall be drawn as to a brightness, –

‘And every moth and bee
Approach me reverently,
Wheeling o’er me, wheeling o’er me,
Coronals of motioned glory.

‘Three larks shall leave a cloud,
To my whiter beauty vowed,
Singing gladly all the moontide,
Never waiting for the suntide.

‘Ten nightingales shall flee
Their woods for love of me,
Singing sadly all the suntide,
Never waiting for the moontide.

‘I ween the very skies
Will look down with surprise,
When below on earth they see me
With my starry aspect dreamy.

‘And earth will call her flowers
To hasten out of doors,
By their curtsies and sweet-smelling
To give grace to my foretelling.’

So praying, did she win
South winds to let her in,
In her loneness, in her loneness,
And the fairer for that oneness.

But ah, — alas for her!
No thing did minister
To her praises, to her praises,
More than might unto a daisy’s.

No tree nor bush was seen
To boast a perfect green,
Scarcely having, scarcely having
One leaf broad enough for waving.

The little flies did crawl
Along the southern wall,
Faintly shifting, faintly shifting
Wings scarce long enough for lifting.

The lark, too high or low,
I ween, did miss her so,
With his nest down in the gorses,
And his song in the star-courses.

The nightingale did please
To loiter beyond seas:
Guess him in the Happy Islands,
Learning music from the silence!

Only the bee, forsooth,
Came in the place of both,
Doing honor, doing honor
To the honey-dews upon her.

The skies looked coldly down
As on a royal crown;
Then with drop for drop, at leisure,
They began to rain for pleasure.

Whereat the earth did seem
To waken from a dream,
Winter-frozen, winter-frozen,
Her unquiet eyes unclosing –

Said to the Rose, ‘Ha, snow!
And art thou fallen so?
Thou, who wast enthroned stately
All along my mountains lately?

‘Holla, thou world-wide snow!
And art thou wasted so,
With a little bough to catch thee,
And a little bee to watch thee?’

– Poor Rose, to be misknown!
Would she had ne’er been blown,
In her loneness, in her loneness,
All the sadder for that oneness!

Some word she tried to say,
Some no . . . ah, wellaway!
But the passion did o’ercome her,
And the fair frail leaves dropped from her.

– Dropped from her fair and mute,
Close to a poet’s foot,
Who beheld them, smiling slowly,
As at something sad yet holy, –

Said, ‘Verily and thus
It chances too with us
Poets, singing sweetest snatches
While that deaf men keep the watches:

‘Vaunting to come before
Our own age evermore,
In a loneness, in a loneness,
And the nobler for that oneness.

‘Holy in voice and heart,
To high ends, set apart:
All unmated, all unmated,
Just because so consecrated.

‘But if alone we be,
Where is our empery?
And if none can reach our stature,
Who can mete our lofty nature?

‘What bell will yield a tone,
Swung in the air alone?
If no brazen clapper bringing,
Who can hear the chimed ringing?

‘What angel but would seem
To sensual eyes, ghost-dim?
And without assimilation
Vain is interpenetration.

‘And thus, what can we do,
Poor rose and poet too,
Who both antedate our mission
In an unprepared season?

‘Drop, leaf! be silent, song!
Cold things we come among:
We must warm them, we must warm them,
Ere we ever hope to charm them.

‘Howbeit’ (here his face
Lightened around the place,
So to mark the outward turning
Of its spirit’s inward burning.)

‘Something it is, to hold
In God’s worlds manifold,
First revealed to creature-duty,
Some new form of his mild Beauty.

‘Whether that form respect
The sense or intellect,
Holy be, in mood or meadow,
The Chief Beauty’s sign and shadow!

‘Holy, in me and thee,
Rose fallen from the tree, –
Though the world stand dumb around us,
All unable to expound us.

‘Though none us deign to bless,
Blessed are we, natheless;
Blessed still and consecrated
In that, rose, we were created.

‘Oh, shame to poet’s lays
Sung for the dole of praise, –
Hoarsely sung upon the highway
With that obolum da mihi!

‘Shame, shame to poet’s soul
Pining for such a dole,
When Heaven-chosen to inherit
The high throne of a chief spirit!

Sit still upon your thrones,
O ye poetic ones!
And if, sooth, the world decry you,
Let it pass unchallenged by you.

‘Ye to yourselves suffice,
Without its flatteries.
Self-contentedly approve you
Unto HIM who sits above you, –

‘In prayers, that upward mount
Like to a fair-sunned fount
Which, in gushing back upon you,
Hath an upper music won you, –

‘In faith — that still perceives
No rose can shed her leaves,
Far less, poet fall from mission,
With an unfulfilled fruition, –

‘In hope, that apprehends
An end beyond these ends,
And great uses rendered duly
By the meanest song sung truly, –

‘In thanks, for all the good
By poets understood,
For the sound of seraphs moving
Down the hidden depths of loving, –

‘For sights of things away
Through fissures of the clay,
Promised things which shall be given
And sung over, up in Heaven, –

‘For life, so lovely-vain,
For death, which breaks the chain,
For this sense of present sweetness,
And this yearning to completeness!’

More on Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Poetry Foundation

More on Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Poets. Org

The Browning Society–promotes appreciation and awareness of the two poets

Casa Guidi–the Brownings house in Rome

The Armstrong Browning Library–for the research and study of the Brownings and Victorian poets

Post-Poetry Month Withdrawal

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