Sea of Faith
unknown when written but found it on a blog post dated January 2011
Once when I was teaching “Dover Beach”
to a class of freshmen, a young woman
raised her hand and said, “I’m confused
about this ‘Sea of Faith.’ “ “Well,” I said,
“let’s talk about it. We probably need
to talk a bit about figurative language.
What confuses you about it?”
“I mean, is it a real sea?” she asked.
“You mean, is it a real body of water
that you could point to on a map
or visit on a vacation?”
“Yes,” she said. “Is it a real sea?”
Oh Christ, I thought, is this where we are?
Next year I’ll be teaching them the alphabet
and how to sound words out.
I’ll have to teach them geography, apparently,
before we can move on to poetry.
I’ll have to teach them history, too-
a few weeks on the Dark Ages might be instructive.
“Yes,” I wanted to say, “it is.
It is a real sea. In fact it flows
right into the Sea of Ignorance
IN WHICH YOU ARE DROWNING.
Let me throw you a Rope of Salvation
before the Sharks of Desire gobble you up.
Let me hoist you back up onto this Ship of Fools
so that we might continue our search
for the Fountain of Youth. Here, take a drink
of this. It’s fresh from the River of Forgetfulness.”
But of course I didn’t say any of that.
I tried to explain in such a way
as to protect her from humiliation,
tried to explain that poets
often speak of things that don’t exist.
It was only much later that I wished
I could have answered differently,
only after I’d betrayed myself
and been betrayed that I wished
it was true, wished there really was a Sea of Faith
that you could wade out into,
dive under its blue and magic waters,
hold your breath, swim like a fish
down to the bottom, and then emerge again
able to believe in everything, faithful
and unafraid to ask even the simplest of questions,
happy to have them simply answered.
"I just discovered this and thought it really rounded out the Dover Trilogy as I've come to call it. I like the jumping across ages, and I can see this in a thoroughly modern setting, except that, yet again, the female in the poem is an idiot. Granted, the poet could have made the student male, and perhaps the student represents students in general and perhaps I shouldn't be so judgy, but still, I'm thinking that the young woman is actually the daughter of the woman talked about in both of the two original poems, and the mother who actually had learned something of poetry and possibly had the child by one of the two men, has now sent the child to college to be scoffed at by yet another pretentious male. In fact, it seems like the narrators in each one of these poems could even be the same guy ... or variants of the same guy. The woman is still 'the other' or 'the object' .... I am really hungry for a poem written by a woman in response to all this. Maybe from her point of view, maybe from this freshman student's point of view, but there is something that is definitely missing here. I would, like this poet, like to ask the simplest of questions and have them simply answered."
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