(Poem #89) 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.
... like most 'classic poems', 'Dover Beach' has its share of redeeming features <g> To tell the truth, Arnold isn't one of my favourite poets - much of his work is too overtly didactic for my taste. The first and last stanzas of 'Dover Beach', however, are not; although I disagree with the philospophy implied by the poem, I can't help being enchanted by its language... "Where ignorant armies clash by night" has got to be one of the most evocative (and in its way, saddest) lines ever written, right up there with Keats' "Silent, upon a peak in Darien"... thomas. [Brief Biography] Matthew Arnold (1822 - 1888): English poet and critic. His first two volumes of poems The Strayed Reveller and other Poems (1849) and Empedocles on Etna and other Poems (1852) were published anonymously and with little success. He made his mark with his third volume of poetry Poems: A New Edition (1853-54) which contained 'The Scholar Gipsy', 'Sohrab and Rustum', and 'Memorial Verses to Wordsworth'. He reinforced his standing as a poet with New Poems (1867) which included 'Dover Beach' and 'Thyrsis'. He established himself as the leading critic of the age with a number of works including Essays and Criticism (1865, 1888), Culture and Anarchy (1869) and Literature and Dogma (1873). [Less Brief Biography] Matthew Arnold was born in Laleham, Surrey. His father was Dr Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby School. He was educated at Winchester, Rugby, and Balliol College, Oxford where he met another well-known poet of the age, A.H.Clough, and won the Newdigate prize with a poem on Cromwell (1843). In 1845 he was elected a fellow of Oriel, another Oxford college. After working as private secretary to Lord Landsdowne (1847-51), he became an inspector of schools (1851) and travelled widely in England and the Continent observing how schools were organised and suggesting how they could be improved. In 1851 he married Fanny Lucy Wightman and part of his famous poem 'Dover Beach' (1867) dates from his honeymoon on the Continent. He was to have six children, only three of whom outlived him. His critical work, most of which was written after 1860, was to have a profound influence on many writers after his death, including the poet T.S.Eliot. In Essays and Criticism (1865) Arnold widened the limits of literary criticism by using it to attack the state of English culture. The focus of this attack was 'provinciality', or the narrowness of mind caused by people's preoccupation with local affairs. His eagerness to escape the limits of 'provinciality' formed the basis of his work as an inspector of schools. He is now seen as having made a valuable contribution to the improvement of education in England. from http://www.netpoets.com