Tag Archives: freedom

Evocative Fragments: from Arnold’s ‘A Summer Night’ (2)

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where”er his heart
Listeth, will sail;
Nor doth he know how there prevail,
Despotic on that sea,
Trade-winds which cross it from eternity.
Awhile he holds some false way, undebarred
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves.
And then the tempest strikes him; and between
The lightning-bursts is seen
Only a driving wreck,
And the pale master on his spar-strewn deck
With anguished face and flying hair
Grasping the rudder hard,
Still bent to make some port he knows not where,
Still standing for some false, impossible shore.
And sterner comes the roar
Of sea and wind, and through the deepening gloom
Fainter and fainter wreck and helmsman loom,
And he too disappears, and comes no more.

This fragment is the response to the previous fragment from Matthew Arnold’s ‘A Summer Night’ that I blogged a few days ago. As a teen in a well-regimented boarding school I found that previous fragment terrifying with its prospect of living as a bored wage-slave forever, and this second fragment exhilarating in its freedom despite the expectation of catastrophe. Altogether a very subversive poem, and I thank my schooling for including such works. For the next couple of decades I followed its path, failing to earn a degree at universities in three countries, never holding a job for more than 18 months, frequently moving. Eventually I found an occupation that was constantly changing, where I was my own boss, and that took me to dozens of countries to teach business seminars. So it all worked out.

Arnold originally ended his poem:

Is there no life, but these alone?
Madman or slave must man be one?

but ten years later added a much more wishy-washy piece about learning from the pure heavens and seeing what a nice life you could make for yourself. I always thought he should have stopped with the original “madman or slave” view of life. Much more dramatic – even though I have to admit his addition may have been justified.

“Storm at Sea” by gentlemanbeggar is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘The Moon’

The birds of dawn
Sing Come out on the lawn.

Flowers
Say Seize the hours.

The day, the sun
Say Don’t stay – look, laugh, run.

Warm rain
Says More! Again!

A tree
Simply says Be.

Beyond the trees, the beach
Rumbles Extend your reach.

A cliff
Asks: If?

The sand
Calls for a handstand.

A wave
Says Misbehave.

Sunset
Asks you, Done yet?

The moon, that overhanging stone…
The moon says You’re alone.

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It was an attempt to capture the bittersweetness of living in–or perhaps specifically growing up in–a rural or isolated environment. It’s wonderful to be wild in the wilderness except that, almost by definition, you’re likely to be on your own. And that’s fine, a lot of the time…

Anyway, that freedom is what my childhood and stretches of my 20s were like, and what I came back to after decades away–the difference being that now I’m no longer alone! 🙂 

Photo: “Full Moon Beach Ride July 2012” by gasmith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0