Friday, September 09, 2005

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-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 Aegaean, 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.

* * *

This has always been a favorite of mine, and not just because the poet, according to family tradition, is some sort of distant uncle. It's because I identify so easily with the sentiments expressed. When I stand by the shores of any lake or ocean, this "eternal note of sadness" pulls at me. It is as if I felt the sorrows of everyone in the world, all at once.

The world can be like the ocean: turbulent, cold, unpredictable. One comfort is given: love. When one is not alone on the shore, but with someone else, it is much easier to face life unshaken. "Ah, love, let us be true to one another!" cries the poet. "The world is enormous, frightening, and all is dark. I cannot see what I should do or where I should go. Yet if you were with me, somehow, I feel I can face it."


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Sheila said...

The spam must end!

Mark said...

And you say I like depressing poetry...

Sheila said...

I prefer poetry that is more general about the depressing parts, though. He says that the world is a darkling plain, but he doesn't quote specifics. I find The Wasteland far more depressing because it's specific; it shows you the evil in detail.