Dover Beach

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Puritan Board Freshman
Yes, I know this poem has already been discussed in an earlier thread, but c'mon, this is a great poem! Let's discuss it a bit shall we? There are few pleasures equal to reading a poem, so let me invite you to read "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold now:


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 Agean, 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.

Ok, now please (oh please!) read it again. Be sure to read it out loud, it's so much better that way!

Alright alright, now that you've had the indescribable pleasure (I really am serious about that) of experiencing the beauty of a poem (twice), tell me about that experience. What did you notice? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Puritan Board Freshman
I like how th e last verses mirror the first statements about sadness and bring hope with the thought of being with love. I also like how it refers to being on a 'darkling plain.' Like though we are aliens here, the light shines in the darkness. Jesus is the light of world. He died for sins and rose so that wwe may really know true love. He is amazing!

To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,

Though we see through a glass darkly, we will see Jesus so beautiful, so new. Can you wait? He is so wonderful.


Puritan Board Freshman
Here's a few things that I enjoyed while reading "Dover Beach":

1. Notice that the poem's stanzas do not follow any recognizable pattern. 14-6-8-9. The rhyme scheme and meter follows suit, having no pattern either. At first we might think that this is the mark of an inferior poem, but wait! Let's think about why Matthew Arnold might have chosen to write the poem in this way. When we do so, we realize that the lack of conventional patterns actually serves the purpose of his poem, which is to lament the world's cultural chaos. If Arnold had written the poem within a tightly formalized scheme, a sonnet for instance, it would actually lack continuity. Even so, the words of the poem are obviously chosen with care and precision. Consider, for example, the line "Begin, and cease, and then again begin," which could have easily been rendered "Begin, and cease, and then begin again," but without the symmetry that Arnold includes when he starts and ends his line with "begin".

2. Notice the way that Arnold utilizes imagery to surround us with the feeling of chaos, which contrasts with the "tranquil bay". We remember that he is standing on the Strait of Dover in England, gazing across the English Channel with his beloved. One of my professors told me in a class that if you visit the Dover Straits, the "pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling," are decent sized stones, maybe about the size of half-a-fist. So imagine yourself gazing across the English Channel, hearing the surf crash against the high walls of the straits, with thousands of these stones randomly smashing into one another. What Arnold has masterfully done, in other words, is to provide not simply a powerful image, but a metaphor that encapsulates the mood of his entire poem: chaotic conflict. Quite an accomplishment!

3. Notice also what many others point out concerning the poem, namely, sea as a metaphor of Ancient, Medieval, and Modern culture. Sophocles, a Greek tragedian of Athens in the 5th century B.C., is most famous for his Oedipus cycle, which set the standard for tragedy ever since. By gazing upon the English Channel, then, we discover a spiritual kinship that transcends space and time. Though physically on the Straits of Dover, we are also in Athens; though temporally in the 19th century, we are also in the 5th century B.C. The Sea provides this mystical connection.

The same things apply to "the Sea of Faith," a reference to Christendom's Medieval dominance, which Arnold describes as "the folds of a bright girdle furled." But consider the continuity that Arnold attributes to Christianity, as it provides a beautiful garment that covers the entire world. But again, the poem is a lament, and so we discover that this garment, like the tide, is "Retreating, to the breath / Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear /
And naked shingles of the world."

3. Arnold's last stanza contains a beautiful statement of love's defiance in the face of a world devoid of "joy", "love", "light", "certitude", "peace", and "help for pain." In such a world, Arnold suggests, must cling to one's beloved. Arnold's stanza thus becomes an eery existentialist prophecy that seems to intuit the coming of World War One, when disillusionment followed the clashing of "ignorant armies."


See what I mean when I say that poetry is one of the greatest pleasures we can enjoy? Through a poet's eyes, we can take a single moment and actualize the potential of its multivalent significance. In other words, we do not just see the picturesque, we perceive the sacramental.
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