Friday, June 06, 2008

Poem of the Week 5/28/2008: Dover Beach

Dover Beach

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 A gaean, 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.

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold is my guilty pleasure. I think most of the content of this posting will show that, so while I am qualifying it, I happily stick to my opinions.

Despite all of the reasons to stay clear of this poem, I know that I like it; it's one of those things literary critics could probably appreciate but perhaps not out and out like? Actually, why am I saying that? Some idea about not sticking to cliches, to the easily accessed poems, but I really do appreciate this poem for what it is, a rather complete whole reflecting upon meaning, faith, the presence of modern life against the way things were, and finally the position of relationships within everything, not to mention one of my favorite lines of all time (for some reason, it seems just perfect to me, though it's certainly not the cleverest or most spectacular):

the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling

I miss music in poetry. An introduction to a volume of Rilke I recently read mentioned that with the coming of more recent poetry, a drier, more "willful" and active style came into being, and the lofty notes of Arnold's work

Another note: Matthew Arnold was once found on a naked jaunt in a stream, and, when admonished by the onlooker, yelled back, "Is it impossible you find anything imperfect in the human form divine?" Who says things like that? O sweet spirit of delight!

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