Those White Cliffs of Dover

2005-07-26_-_United_Kingdom_-_England_-_Dover_-_White_Cliffs_4_4888124626Last week, I wrote about a poem written by Randall Mann titled “Bernal Hill.” A discerning reader pointed at the near-obvious reference Mann’s poem makes to the classic “Dover Beach,” written in the mid-1800’s by English poet Matthew Arnold. I accept that the reference totally slipped my grasp, so I wanted to share Arnold’s poem this week.

“Dover Beach” was inspired by the famous, white-chalk English cliffs of Dover, which carry symbolic significance for the British because they face the nation’s European neighbors to the South.

For Arnold, Dover Beach was an ideal place in which to ruminate on love in the throes of his newly “modern” world, among other things. The result, below, is a romantic and Romantic poem, but relevant even today, in the throes of our “modern” world.


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-blanch’d 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 {AE}gean, 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 furl’d.
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.

Photo Credit: CGP Grey

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