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#2. Sunday Morning Poetry: Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

March 25, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week we discussed Wallace Stevens poem "Sunday Morning," and how to create a secular "church." In his poem he rejects Christian Doctrine and celebrates the actualities of human life and the physical universe as fulfilling man's needs without any compensating hope of immortality. His solution is essentially to enjoy the sensual world and to live in harmony with nature. A good message for sure, but he neglects one critical component of the human condition: pain, suffering, misery, evil: CHAOS. Matthew Arnold in Dover Beach grapples with a similar theme to Stevens', which is the impossibility (in the eyes of the poet) of holding any religious faith. But Arnold loses his faith for a much different reason.

 

 

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.

 

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