We all know “The Cloud” by Shelley, and “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold are classics.

Both poems seek a redemptive consistency amidst change and fear, and it would be safe to say this is the chief role of religion, and once, the chief role of poetry.

Shelley’s poem is remarkable for its sound—no contemporary poet can match Shelley’s music without crashing and burning in sounding like Dr. Seuss.  Faith in this kind of poetry is necessary to persist in the beauty which can result—but more than beauty: the atomism of Shelley’s poem, its glittering movement, replicates the tumbling, mutating cloud-theme itself.


I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night ’tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;
Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven’s blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains.

The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead;
As on the jag of a mountain crag,
Which an earthquake rocks and swings,
An eagle alit one moment may sit
In the light of its golden wings.
And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardours of rest and of love,
And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aëry nest,
As still as a brooding dove.

That orbèd maiden with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the Moon,
Glides glimmering o’er my fleece-like floor,
By the midnight breezes strewn;
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet,
Which only the angels hear,
May have broken the woof of my tent’s thin roof,
The stars peep behind her and peer;
And I laugh to see them whirl and flee,
Like a swarm of golden bees,
When I widen the rent in my wind-built tent,
Till calm the rivers, lakes, and seas,
Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,
Are each paved with the moon and these.

I bind the Sun’s throne with a burning zone,
And the Moon’s with a girdle of pearl;
The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim,
When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl.
From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape,
Over a torrent sea,
Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof,
The mountains its columns be.
The triumphal arch through which I march
With hurricane, fire, and snow,
When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair,
Is the million-coloured bow;
The sphere-fire above its soft colours wove,
While the moist Earth was laughing below.

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

How different is the Arnold poem, as it drags in sentiment and commentary, Arnold, the school teacher making assumptions about figures from the past, Arnold, the pacifist making statements against war, Arnold, the over-educated Victorian as rotting Romanticism, but with the torch still burning!

Shelley’s poem contains no human sentiment—it is not, actually, “Romantic,” but the voice of pure existence; if the God of tremulous existence could speak, Shelley would be the mouthpiece.  Romanticism is the highest concentration of human passion in art—artless human passion is legion, but the artful part belongs to the great Romantics like Shelley, and “The Cloud” is merely the result of the highest human passion inscribed artfully naturally evolving into the god-like with its purest manifestation in the sound-sense of highly skilled poetry.

Arnold’s poem begins divinely, and competes with Shelley’s genius, even surpasses it, in the opening music of that remarkable first stanza, but then it falls to human bathos, the human sentiment of pedantry and self-pity, but since Arnold is alive to the Romantic tradition we hardly notice the worm invading the corn. 

Historically, in the movement from Romanticsm to Modernism, the physics of “The Cloud” ends with Arnold’s lament that behind Shelley’s materiality is emptiness, but this is because Arnold the critic did not take Shelley to heart and chose instead to elevate Wordsworth as the Great Romantic. 

“Ah love, let us be true to one another” is a bracing sentiment in the face of Arnold’s universal despair, but this temptation needs to be resisted—we mean giving into Arnold’s despair, because if love is brought in as a last-minute rescue, as a sentiment that is the only good thing, it ends up detaching love from the universe itself—it finally gives into smallness and fear, not to mention pedantry.  Shelley’s materiality is more than that, since the poet is the god, the creative impulse is what matters, not Arnold’s subjective and highly seductive wailing.


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 Agaean, 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.

The great seduction is: “ignorant armies,” because the reader, of course, pats himself on the back with Arnold…at least I’m not ignorant and war-like, as I survey with Arnold this woeful world.  

Matthew Arnold was, in fact, one of the figures T.S. Eliot, and other modernists, hitched a ride on, in order to ultimately give into self-pity and denigrate the glorious likes of Shelley.  It is against the rules of Scarriet March Madness to quote another poem by a contestant during a match, but Shelley’s “Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples,” which resembles “Dover Beach,” has none of the latter’s over-educated justification of acute misery. 

O, violent, brawling game!

Fights are breaking out in the stands!

The game is delayed five times to clear the court!

The refs seem to want to give the game to Arnold….

Triple Overtime!

Shelley 101, Arnold 100!!!!

Marla Muse has fainted!!!!!


  1. April 12, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Reblogged this on Mary Beth Bass and commented:
    “Shelley’s poem is remarkable for its sound—no contemporary poet can match Shelley’s music without crashing and burning in sounding like Dr. Seuss.”

  2. April 13, 2013 at 11:18 am

    And now for our promised halftime feature—
    A ballad read by a high school teacher:

    Benjamin Deane

    Good people all, both great and small, read those few lines penned by me,
    Those lines are written by a man deprived of liberty;
    Who is serving out a sentence for a deed which I have done,
    And here I fear I will remain till my race on earth is run.

    My name it is Benjamin Deane, my age is forty-one,
    I was born in New Brunswick in the city of Saint John,
    Near by the Bay of Fundy where the sea gulls loudly call
    And they rock with pride the silver tide as the billows rise and fall

    My parents reared me honestly, brought me up in the fear of God,
    But they have long been slumbering beneath their native sod;
    Side by side they slumber in a quiet cemetery
    Where the willows bow beneath the breeze far off the dark blue sea.

    Farewell unto my native home, I ne’er will see it more,
    No more I’ll watch those billows break upon its rock bound shore,
    No more I’ll watch those ships go by with sails as white as snow,
    Bound for some port far o’er the sea before the winds that blow.

    When I arrived in Berlin Falls some twenty years ago,
    The town was then about one half as large as it is now,
    And laboring men of every nationality was there,
    For work was plenty, wages good, each man could get a share.

    The business men of Berlin then were making money fast,
    I thought that I, too, would invest before the boom had passed,
    A building leased on Mason Street and into business went,
    I kept a fruit and candy store, likewise a restaurant.

    My business proved successful, for I did the right by all,
    I gained the favor of the great, the rich, the poor and small.
    To my surprise before one year had fully rolled its rounds,
    In glittering gold I did possess more than two thousand pounds.

    That coming year I wed with one, the fairest of the fair,
    Her eyes were of a heavenly blue, and light brown was her hair,
    Her cheeks were like the dawn of day, her form graceful and fair,
    Her smiles were bright as the morning light, her step was light as air.

    She was born of good parents, and they reared her tenderly,
    But little did they ever think she would be slain by me.
    The night I gained her promise and her hand to me she gave
    ‘Twould have been better far for her had she laid in her grave.

    I own I loved my fair young bride who proved a prudent wife,
    Oh, little did I think that I one day would take her life;
    And as the years rolled swiftly by upon the wheels of time
    I found the paths of pleasure that led to the fields of crime.

    My wife would often plead and beg me my steps to retrace,
    She told me that the paths I trod led to death and disgrace.
    Had I but heeded the warning I would not be here now,
    And she might yet be living with no brand upon her brow.

    I soon began a wild career, caused by the thirst for gold,
    My property on Mason Street for a goodly sum I sold.
    I bought a building on Main Street that cost a handsome sum,
    I ran a free and easy house and went to selling rum.

    My former friends of decent grade my company did shun,
    But still I was content to lead the life I had begun,
    For gold and silver like a brook came flowing into me,
    By its glitter I was blinded and my danger could not see.

    I soon began to associate with men of low degree,
    My business kept me constantly in their base company.
    I quickly went from bad to worse, did many a deed of crime
    That never would be brought to light in future years of time.

    Kind fortune that had been my friend began to frown in me;
    ‘Twas then my eyes were opened, I could see my destiny.
    Black clouds were gathering o’er me, that with fury soon would break,
    I fain then would retrace my steps, but ah, alas, too late.

    All I possessed in real estate to my wife it was made
    Over in legal writing, when kind fortune’s smile did fade.
    But her regard and love for me did gradually grow cold
    When she found my heart and soul were bound with glittering gold.

    The storm it came, the house I built upon the sands did fall,
    With it my name, my wife and children, ill got wealth and all.
    And on the verge of deep despair I saw them drift from me
    Upon the tide of justice towards the sea Eternity.

    Then under forty thousand dollar bonds I soon was placed,
    To respect the laws of man that I had long disgraced.
    And then to add unto my many troubles that had come
    Were four indictments that appeared for selling beer and rum.

    My fair wife she had fled to one whose name will not write,
    Whose character was blacker than the darkest hours of night.
    To persuade her to return to me it was my whole intent,
    Unto the house where she then dwelt my steps I quickly bent.

    I cautiously approached the house and opened the hall door,
    I found my way to my wife’s room upon the upper floor.
    The sight that fell upon my gaze is stamped upon my mind,
    For upon the bosom of a man my fair wife’s head reclined.

    The very fiends of hell it seemed my being had possessed,
    I drew a loaded pistol and I aimed it at her breast.
    And when she saw the weapon it was loudly she did cry,
    “For God’s sake, do not shoot me, Ben, I am not fit to die.”

    The bullet pierced her snow-white breast in a moment she was dead,
    “My God, Ben, you have shot me!” were the last words that she said.
    The trigger of my weapon either pulled too hard or slow,
    Or else another soul would passed with her’s to weal or woe.

    The last time that I saw my wife she lay upon the floor,
    Her long and wavy light brown hair was stained with crimson gore.
    The sun shone through the window on her cold and lifeless face,
    As the officers led me away from that polluted place.

    I have two daughters living, they are orphans in a way,
    And should you chance to meet them treat them kindly I pray,
    Don’t chide them for their father’s sin, for on them there will rest
    A crimson stain long after I am mouldering back to dust.

    And now, young men, a warning take by this sad tale of mine,
    Don’t sacrifice your honor for bright gold or silver fine.
    Let truth and honor be your shield, you’ll find that you will climb
    The ladder to success and fame and not be stung by crime.

    Joe Scott

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