Thursday, April 6, 2023

Dover Beach

            I made reference to this poem in a blog post a few months ago, and now, with all the shit going on in the world, I find myself turning to it again. For those of you too busy doing important things, skip ahead to the last section of the poem. You’ll miss a lot, but if you think what a poem does is try to “make a point,” you can find it there – but in doing so you will, I’ll say it again, miss so much. For the best experience, read the poem aloud.


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 Ægean, 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.


            Did you read the poem aloud? Neither did I.


            I’ll pass up the opportunity to comment on the music of the poem, and how it moves from the sound of withdrawing waves (“Its melancholy, long withdrawing roar”) to those last eight lines. As a retired English teacher, I’m off duty. And I refuse to elaborate on today’s version of “confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night.”


            The poem also makes me wonder, among other things, what it means to “be true / To one another.” True? It sure means a lot more than sexual fidelity! But this is matter for a future blog post.


  1. So powerful snd musical snd sad

  2. Thank you David for sharing in you posts your profound observations, experiences and feelings. Revealing yourself and sometimes underplaying the wonder of yourself.