Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a holiday when we honor our war dead and, more generally, our deceased loved ones. (And when, less poignantly, we kick off the summer travel season with barbecues and beer.)
I’m spending today with Husband and the kids. We’ll probably take in our town’s parade with its odd mixture of sequin-clad dancers, 4H kids throwing candy, and a float carrying local war widows.
An incongruous tableau.
And then we’ll eat and nap and hope for sunshine.
And today the poem “Dover Beach” is in my head. It’s not a war poem, per se, or even a poem explicitly about memory. It is, I think, a lament for the uncertainties of the modern world.
It’s also a poem that is sacred to me; Husband chose it as one of the readings at our wedding. And it’s on my mind today as I think about the power of love in the face of uncertainty and remember those fallen in war, those suffering from illness, and the people of Joplin, Missouri and the citizens of the tornado ravaged communities of the central U.S.
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.
“Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold, 1851 (?)
What, or whom, are you remembering today?