Thursday, 6 October 2011

Dover Beach

It's been a while since I posted a poem (how many times have I said that on these pages?!) so it's about time I posted another.

I first came across Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold when I was studying for my Highers some 20 years ago. Fortunately years of learning poetry for elocution lessons (as well as memorising Bible passages for Sunday School) meant I was able to remember enough of it to use it as the basis of my answer for one of the essay questions in the exam.

In the intervening years I have occasionally come across it again, and have always enjoyed it. I'm not sure I could write an essay on it now, though. Fortunately, I don't have to, as there is much analysis available elsewhere on the internet, including in this Wikipedia entry.

Anyway that's enough rambling from me other than to say that, like most good poems, this is worth taking time over. If you skim read it, you'll lose any chance of interpreting the author's meaning or feeling the emotion of the piece. Take it slowly and let the rhythm and cadence carry you through to the end. Enjoy:

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold 

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.


1 comment:

Raybeard said...

It's a powerful work and justly renowned.
Although I knew the poem and must have read it several times over some decades, reading slowly again something that is familiar in the different context of someone else's blogs always throws up new angles, new perspectives and images which hadn't really been noticed before. In my case it was particularly the last two lines which used to seem to have jarred with what had gone before, so I did tend to skate over them. But I now see clearer that that was probably the very effect that Arnold had wanted to make.
Thanks, Andrew.