Dover Bitch

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Bitch is Back

Dover Bitch was down for almost a year a while. Athenaeum gone, too. But the Bitch is Back. No guarantees that this will be updated daily. No promises that we'll be unraveling any conspiracies or breaking any news. But maybe we'll contribute something.

And that's good enough for the Bitch.

UPDATE: This happens to be the first anniversary of the death of Anthony Hecht, from whose poem this blog takes its name.

2007 UPDATE: When this blog went online in 2004, it went up with a post about Anthony Hecht's poem, Dover Bitch: A Criticism of Life, which is a parody of (I prefer "companion" to) Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, and why I started blogging. But the old blog is gone and when I started this newer incarnation, I neglected to rewrite that post.

And I haven't had much interest in doing so. This blog isn't supposed to be about me. I can't really imagine why anybody would want to read a blog about me, quite frankly, nor can I fathom a reason that I would want to author such a blog. I don't even care to get involved in the blog-o-sphere-wide discussions about blogging and pseudonymity that occur from time to time.

But to satisfy any curiosity about the name Dover Bitch, I'll simply implore you to read both poems and think about what Hecht was trying to say.

Hecht was no stranger to horror:

He saw a great deal of combat in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia. However, his most significant experience occurred on April 23, 1945. On this day Hecht's division helped liberate Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp, Hecht was ordered to interview French prisoners in the hope of gathering evidence on the camp's commanders. Years later, Hecht said of this experience, "The place, the suffering, the prisoners' accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking."

And yet he chose to mock Matthew Arnold for writing this:

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.

On a day like April 23, 1945 -- or Sept. 11, 2001 -- it would be perfectly reasonable to accept that Arnold's "eternal note of sadness" truly rings.

But Hecht provides us with an alternative and the brilliance of his poem lies in the choice he offers us: Do we decide the world is bleak and the woman is simply vapid and materialistic? Or is Arnold (Hecht makes it personal by claiming the speaker in Beach is Arnold, himself) a misanthrope who can't even figure out what to do on a date?

Hecht forces us to ask a simple question: Who is the Dover Bitch?

The answer depends on us, how we view the world, how we feel about life on a particular day, how easily seduced we are by Hecht's humor and style, how moved we are by Arnold's command of language.

I must admit I vacillate between choosing the man or the woman. But what I really find compelling is the window through which Arnold views his sad world and the woman eyes the luxuries of France.

Arnold thinks the window separates him from the world. But it is a false barrier. The window itself is a part of the world, and more important, so is he. So is the woman.

So are we and every window we look through. I chose the name Dover Bitch to remind myself of that. Arnold has apparently given up on trying to have a positive impact on the world. I refuse to join him.

2007 UPDATE II: One of the many reasons I didn't want to rewrite this post is that there is so much to write about these two poems. In case it doesn't go without saying, I have deliberately limited my writing to this single facet of the comparison and I've ignored the interesting discussions one could have about language, sexism, love, power, etc...