I'd been reading an article about world politics- how the nation state is dying and the future is global- and these lines came into my head.
I couldn't think who the author was. Shelley? Yeats? Neither as it turns out. They're by Matthew Arnold- from his Stanzas on the Grande Chartreuse.
Arnold is the third great Victorian poet. Tennyson is a supreme lyricist, Browning is the life force personified and Arnold can seem starchy and a little laboured by comparison. He's not quite as good, he takes the bronze while they compete for gold and silver. He's better perhaps in odd lines than in complete poems; Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse, if I remember rightly, is a humourless exercise in late-romantic self-pity, and much too long....
But he's very quotable. "City of dreaming spires" is one of his. So is
"And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night"
That's from Dover Beach- which, whatever else one might say about him and his work, is a very great poem.