Saturday, February 04, 2012


A few days ago I’m reading before bed like usual. I read some pages from a book, then I put it down and pick up another, go a few pages further into that one. In Stephen Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense, his essays on current poetry, I come across a discussion of the way the Australian poet John Tranter has mined “Dover Beach” to create some poems of his own. Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” ends thus:
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
So I put aside Close Calls with Nonsense and pick up Gregory Benford’s science fiction novel Timescape. The characters hear noises out in the garage so go to investigate. They surprise some thieves and one of our heroes brandishes a fireplace poker.
Markham swung the poker back and forth in front of him. The men seemed paralyzed by the sound of it. In the gloom they could not tell how close it came. Markham could not judge the distance either. Ignorant armies clash by night, he thought giddily.
So, hey, that was fun, going from one book to another and encountering the same line of poetry in two different contexts.

Then I remembered that a few days previous I had read Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” in its entirety in an anthology edited by Robert Bly, News of the Universe: poems of twofold consciousness, a book I’m still working my way through.

There’s one more item. I’ve been reading another anthology, The Cento: a collection of collage poems, edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford. As Welford explains, “A cento is a collage-poem composed of lines lifted from other sources – often … from great poets of the past.” I came across the placemark last night (2/5/12). I’d put it in a couple days after the Close Calls/Timescape incident. Maybe I was prepared by that, making it seemed natural when in a contribution by David Lehman I came across this:
… To begin the morning right,
The small rain down can rain

Where ignorant armies clash by night
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

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