Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Cliffs of England Stand; Glimmering and Vast"

When the bus pulled up to Dover, I was underwhelmed. The cliffs were not as grand as I expected, and the town of Dover was not your coastal seaside destination--it's an industrialized, gritty coastal city. But a few hours later, I decided the white cliffs are one the most magnificent natural spectacle I have ever seen. It just took a few miles of walking to get there.
Dover Castle & Operation Dynamo

The structure of Dover Castle is not too impressive, but it's military history makes for an incredible experience. Dover Castle has protected the shore for over 20 centuries, and more recently it served as a defense against Napoleon and Axis Power in WWII. Apparently I have a very American perception of WWII, because I know little about WWII pre-American declaration of war. Dover is famous among Brits because it is the site of Operation Dynamo: Rescue from Dunkrik. If you know the story, collect a pat on the back and move on to the next paragraph. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it is a moving story. Soon after Britain declared war, they went over to France to help keep the Nazis out of France but all of the allied troops were out maneuvered and pushed back further and further until they were surrounded and stranded on an French beach. They destroyed all their ammunition and weapons--so the Nazi's could not take it--and they sat defenseless on an open beach. Operation Dynamo evacuated over 300,000 of these men over ten days. When the British Navy could not afford to lose any more ships to Nazi bombers, a flotilla of local Dover boats went over to bring their men home. If you ever get the chance, I would take a look at this new exhibit; it utilizes technology in some pretty fantastic ways.

The Cliffs of Dover

We originally wanted to take a boat tour to see the cliffs, but the boat tours were canceled. It was the best thing that could happen to us because instead of the boat tour, we climbed along the Cliffs of Dover. You could say that we had a more intimate experience with the cliffs you climb. As you rounded the corner or hill, a new view of the cliffs would appear. It was gorgeous.  The sun shone and you could spy the outline of the French coast. Yada, yada, yada...I don't want to reveal how inarticulate I am or be accused of pretty I will skip the "beauty gushing."  

I think that climbing along the Cliffs of Dover is one of the highlights of my trip. There were even wild horses wandering around. Yes, real wild horses. And as the title of my post suggest, we read Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach"; we experienced it like all English majors should experience it.  It is an interesting poem to read in light of Operation Dynamo. Here a few experts for those readers feeling enthusiastic (cough, cough...which is none of you, I am sure). 

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

Oh, by the way. Be careful walking along the cliffs. There are some sneaky little holes along the path; I about broke my ankle stepping in a hole up to my knee. Luckily my ballet training made for a graceful landing

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