Blogs by Victor K. Pryles
Ruminations On Christmas Eve- Before His Entry Into This World
12/24/2004 6:47:38 AM
Tis the night before Christmas and all through my mind a poem by Mathew Arnold kisses my soul.
I know His first entry into the world was a cause for joy, but it seems only His second coming can erase man's inhumanity. Once upon a time, in the middle of a monstorus bloodletting, there was a Christmas truce.
I woke today fully expecting Christmas Eve to deliver me from my often dismal condition. Yet, it was upon Dover Beach I stood, looking at the long and hard journey of life on a pitiless shore:
Poem: "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold.
The sea is calm tonight.
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 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 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.
It was on this day in 1914 that the last known Christmas truce occurred, during World War I. German troops fighting in Belgium began decorating their trenches and singing Christmas carols.
Their enemy, the British, soon joined in the caroling. The war was put on hold, and these soldiers greeted each other in "No Man's Land," exchanging gifts of whiskey and cigars.
Recently killed soldiers were returned behind their own lines and given proper burials, and soldiers from both sides attended ceremonies. In many areas, the truce held until Christmas night, while in other places the truce did not end until New Year's Day. One story has it that the opposing sides played a soccer match together. The game ended when the ball deflated on a strand of barbed wire.
British commanders Sir John French and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien disapproved of the truce, and they ordered artillery bombardments on Christmas Eve in the remaining years of the war. Troops were also rotated with regularity to keep them from growing too familiar with the enemy troops in the close quarters of trench warfare. The Christmas truce was a war tradition of the 19th century, and its disappearance marked the end of wartime protocols of that time.
Oh Holy Night!
It's the birthday of the poet who gave us "Dover Beach," Matthew Arnold, born in Middlesex, England (1822).
Arnold was the son of the schoolmaster of Rugby School, and Arnold himself attended Rugby as a youth. Arnold later attended Balliol College, Oxford, as a young man, and five years after his graduation he published his first volume of poems, The Strayed Reveler (1849). Three years later, Arnold published Empedocles on Etna (1852). Then he decided that his first two collections were no good, and he removed them from circulation. He later published many other volumes, including New Poems (1867), which included his famous elegy "Thyrsis."
Arnold wrote most of his poetry before the age of forty. His verse emphasized directness and symmetry, but his later work as a literary critic attacked the manners and taste of 19th century England, particularly the middle class he dubbed "Philistines." Late in his life, Arnold toured the United States giving lectures, which were collected into the book Discourses in America (1885). Arnold told his biographer that he wanted to be remembered most for this book.
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