Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Overheard at the Counter: Dover 1 (Dover Trilogy)

Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold

Published 1867, but probably written 1851 or as early as 1849.

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.

"To be honest, I've had kind of a love/hate relationship with this poem.  In college I thought it was great, one of the romantic poems that actually pre-saged Eliot and Pound by 50 years, and the Beats by about a hundred years, and I once  think I tried to read it like a Kerouac, with the whole jazz thing behind it.  But as I get older the more it grates on me, the pomposity of it.  The whole miserable dripping sentiment, and how he's practically demanding that this woman drag him out of his own nihilism.  The only redeeming line is the very last one, where he realizes that he will never understand her, or himself, or anything at all.  It's the one glimpse where he understands he might very well be full of shit."


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