Sunday, June 26, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 26, Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"

Today, we are going to the lake, because it is Sunday and it is hot. So, here is a poem about a beach, and also for the Brexit vote, in a certain sort of way.

Dover Beach

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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.


Arnold is, of course, one of those poets you read in school. This has a strong rhyme scheme and a compelling rhythm. He addresses universal issues - love, life, disappointment - and uses some fairly obvious images to do so. The last stanza feels a little depressing - the world has no joy or love or light or anything like that - but think of it as Sir Pratchett suggested - if you ground up the universe into tiny dust, and sifted it, would you find any particles of jo, or love, or light or any of that? And yet...