Drollerie Blog Tour: Catherine Schaff-Stump on poetry

This month’s Drollerie Blog Tour is shifting the schedule to earlier in the month to accommodate monthly themes in a more timely fashion; as of this month, we’ll be putting up posts on the 21st instead of the end of the month. You can find all of this month’s posts here!

For the month of April, our theme is “poetry”, and I’d like to introduce you all to Catherine Schaff-Stump, who is in turn hosting a post from me today! Here’s what she’s got to say about the poetry that’s influenced her as a writer.

The first poem that reached out to me was Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. When I was a sixteen-year old kid growing up in Southern Iowa, my tiny school started sending me to community college two days a week during my junior year. Well, back in the day, in the hollers of America, there were no talented and gifted programs, so the district made it up as they went along. Relevance? I had a college text book to read in my spare time, and Dover Beach was in there.

Here’s the poem:

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-blanched 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 A gaean, 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 furled.
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.

Look at that last verse again. That’s the one that hit me. Some say Arnold was disillusioned. Others say Arnold is concerned about the lack of faith in Victorian society as technological discoveries usher in a more complicated time.

Strangely, I found that stanza to crystalize what I wanted from a relationship. I wanted someone to be true to me amid all the struggles and problems of the world. Hey, I was sixteen. What do you want? Yet, that idea must have stuck. My husband and I go toe-to-toe against the forces of darkness, as we call education, every day, and while that last stanza may be meant to be pessimistic, it seems with the right person, even if the world is a feckless place, it can be negotiated.

Okay, I am a romantic. You’re just lucky I didn’t talk about one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. This blog tour would get sticky with the flow of sap.

2 Replies to “Drollerie Blog Tour: Catherine Schaff-Stump on poetry”

    1. It’s one of my favorites. I love those Victorians!

      Strangely enough, my other favorite poetry group is the Beatniks!


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