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

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


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