“Dirge in the Woods “- By George Meredith

A wind sways the pines,
And below.
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
Even we,
Even so.

The last lines ,which sound so mournful , are a dirge indeed. “Even we, even so” .We drop like the fruits of the tree. We are born as a flower and turn a fruit , ripen and drop off. Rather we are dropped off. Like the pine cones that drop into the soft mud of the forest floor. Imagine the pine needles softly piercing the mud.No noise. They are quiet. Like the under-things in the ocean softly dropping to the floor from a boisterous sea surface .Up in the top branches of the pine there is a noisy breeze ,swaying them with a wild air,while there is stillness in the glowing moss on the pine’s roots and the cones lying about in random.

The pine tree drops its dead. The world drops its dead as quietly.All the while there is hectic activity in the top branches like the world that goes on with its race.Even so.even we.

There is no Victorian stiffness such as one would expect in poetry of the time. To me Meredith’s poem reads like a nature poem.The dirge part is less relevant to me than the exquisite description of the wood with its beautiful imagery.

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The sea of faith

“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 last two stanzas of the famous poem Dover Beach by Mathew Arnold)

The sea of faith is receding, which once was full .All the poet hears now on the Dover beach is its melancholy, withdrawing roar. The sea is retreating to the breath of the night wind, down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world. I love the expression used for the receding sea which leaves behind water-worn pebbles (naked shingles) and “vast edges drear” (perhaps the foam marks left by the receding sea).The water-worn pebbles will remain naked on a beach when they will no longer be touched by the incoming tide .

The poet’s pessimistic vision goes beyond the sea to encompass a world which has no love nor help for pain .The world which seems a land of dreams hath really neither joy nor love nor certitude.

We are here on a darkling plain/swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/where ignorant armies clash by night.

A beautiful image of a battlefield which is filled with darkness where ignorant armies fight one another without knowing friend or foe. In a world which has no love or joy or help for pain we are perpetually confused about our possible responses (fight or flight) to the challenges of the environment and are condemned to clash with undetermined enemies in the confusion of darkness.

It is believed that the reference is to the Pelopponesian war in which soldiers killed each other in utter disorientation in the darkness of the night. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata there is code of conduct agreed to between the warring armies prohibiting the continuance of the war after dusk.

“The eagle” by Alfred Tennyson


He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Alfred Tennyson
1851

The short poem has visual beauty and harmony of words, apart from the effective use of alliteration ‘c,-‘c’-‘c’ .Crisp mono-syllabic words convey the swift efficiency of the eagle. The eagle‘s talons are crooked hands and the eagle’s perch is close to the sun, ringed with the azure world. Below is the sea with its wrinkled waves and it will appear from the top of the crag as if the sea is crawling .The eagle watches from the mountain’s “walls” and as soon as it spots a prey it swoops on it with the speed of a thunder-bolt.