“Sea of Faith” by John Brehm Once when I was teaching "Dover Beach" *see next page for “Dover Beach” to a class of freshmen, a young woman raised her hand and said, "I'm confused about this 'Sea of Faith.'" "Well," I said, "let's talk about it. We probably need (5) to talk a bit about figurative language. What confuses you about it?" "I mean, is it a real sea?" she asked. "You mean, is it a real body of water that you could point to on a map (10) or visit on a vacation?" "Yes," she said. "Is it a real sea?" Oh Christ, I thought, is this where we are? Next year I'll be teaching them the alphabet and how to sound words out. (15) I'll have to teach them geography, apparently, before we can move on to poetry. I'll have to teach them history, too- a few weeks on the Dark Ages might be instructive. "Yes," I wanted to say, "it is. (20) It is a real sea. In fact it flows right into the Sea of Ignorance IN WHICH YOU ARE DROWNING Let me throw you a Rope of Salvation before the Sharks of Desire gobble you up. (25) Let me hoist you back up onto this Ship of Fools so that we might continue our search for the Fountain of Youth. Here, take a drink of this. It's fresh from the River of Forgetfulness." But of course I didn't say any of that. (30) I tried to explain in such a way as to protect her from humiliation, tried to explain that poets often speak of things that don't exist. It was only much later that I wished (35) I could have answered differently, only after I'd betrayed myself and been betrayed that I wished it was true, wished there really was a Sea of Faith that you could wade out into, (40) dive under its blue and magic waters, hold your breath, swim like a fish down to the bottom, and then emerge again able to believe in everything, faithful and unafraid to ask even the simplest of questions, (45) happy to have them simply answered. 5 5
Despite situational similarities to Billy Collins’ poem, how is the tone of this poem ultimately very different than that of “Introduction to Poetry”? “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. (5) 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, (10) 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 (15) 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. (20) The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
- Spring '17
- sndra tobin
- Poetry, Imagism, Archibald MacLeish, Billy Collins, MacLeish