Dover Beach: Matthew Arnold

When I was first introduced (by Brother Barney Liston, of course) to the poem Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, I was fascinated.   


These were just words on a page, but if you read it aloud, you would hear the rush and draw of the waves, breaking on a shingle beach.  You didn’t even need to close your eyes to paint a mental image of the scene.  It was the nearest I had come to music and classical art in the written word.  Nature at its most inspiring.

Funny thing, I remembered nothing (until now) of the second and the third stanzas – those that carry the real meaning of the poem: that is a. the loss of faith and b. the need to cling to personal love instead.  Perhaps neither were themes close to the hearts of Christian Brothers – even one so good and inspiring as our soul-mate Barney. But a good education will come back to reward you. 

Faith has fled from the country – and indeed large parts of the world since then.  In the end, cling to your loved ones. …

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night, 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-blanch’d 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 Aegean, 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 furl’d.

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.

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