Matthew Arnold

(1822-1888 / Middlesex / England)

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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.

Submitted: Sunday, May 06, 2001
Edited: Thursday, December 25, 2014

Topic of this poem: beach

# 75 poem on top 500 Poems


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  • Rookie - 857 Points Francis Lynch (4/26/2014 10:51:00 PM)

    Sounds a bit isolationist. Word has it Arnold was on his wedding night when he wrote this. I'd try to forget the cares of the world too. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 10,594 Points Ramesh Rai (4/26/2014 5:21:00 AM)

    This expresses the feelings of a poet during those days when the world had so many problems. Entire human society was ruled by monarchy and slavery system but the heart of the poet spreads its wings for eternal love. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Ian Elliott (10/12/2013 10:59:00 AM)

    First encountered part of this poem in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It is a lament for the decline of faith, and as such, it expresses the naivete of youth. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie M C (8/22/2012 10:30:00 AM)

    This poem speaks so beautifully to how I have felt after becoming handicapped and after a failed relationship with an unstable, destitute, mentally ill woman, both experiences of which have fundamentally shaped how I view reality. Health and well-being are frighteningly thin veneers. One of the truest fragments of the English language is in this poem: no help for pain. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie John Boney (8/22/2012 12:26:00 AM)

    i love this poem period.. i dont have an opinion on it like the rest........tho i will say it..i love this poem, it reminds me of god and real desire for faith.. thank u no more comments (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Allison Helman (4/26/2012 9:10:00 AM)

    I feel a better understanding of being a Victorian. How isolating and dark to mark the eternal as collective, pitiless bleak memory reflecting for him as water does at least on the surface. I myself would not have wanted to wander far from my flowers, dance, and music and having very pretty dresses. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Claudia Krizay (4/26/2011 1:29:00 PM)

    With this particular poem I disagree with pruchnicki because I think this is a beautiful poem- the language Arnold uses here is almost like music to me. But I don't think that people should get their noses bent out of shape just because someone writes a negative comment about a poem. Everyone has a right to their opinion even if it is negative- when someone writes a poem or does any work of art or music they have to be prepared for the fact that it isn't often that 100% of people who read, look at or listen to it- are going to like it. In a way I respect Pruchnicki for being so open and honest and not lying about how he feels and speaking his own voice. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Mohammad Akmal Nazir (4/26/2011 1:02:00 PM)

    Published in 'New Poems' in 1867, 'Dover Beach' is Arnold's early poem. Immediately after his marriage with Francis Lucy Whitman, he visited Dover Beach with her. Yet he does not feel happy nor does he romanticise the poem. He laments here the loss of faith in religion which is the sole characteristic of Victorian Era. The poem's note is melancholic. It is at once religious, philosophical and emotional. Great poem indeed. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Vlad Alucard (4/26/2011 7:27:00 AM)

    As usual pruchnicki shoots the messenger and completely ignores the message, with his vile pathetic attacks against other poets. What a sorry excuse for a poet or critic. Talk about misdirecting the reader pruchnicki never has a single good thing to say, all he cares about is criticizing other poets that try to help us understand poems from poets long dead. You should try to be more like them prucnicki and leave your personal problems at home. Or at least let us know who you really are and not hide behind your cowardly incognito. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Pruchnicki (4/26/2010 3:12:00 PM)

    How do long-winded comments full of compound/complex sentences help the reader to comprehend a rather basic poem in any way whatsoever? Sure, you can bask in the sun of your own verbal skills as you muck about in the offal of your own linguistic excesses - 'Let my skills weave their magic! Soon enough you'll be as entranced as I am with my ability to confuse and tantalize the wayward reader who falls headlong into the trap I've built with nothing but indirection and cunning, ' you'll boast. What in the world does Craddock mean by the following? - 'Arnold writes a poetic invention to solve and address the confict of ideas and attitudes (sic) the scientific challenge of Darwinism, and the religious doubt and confusion it produced in some with a sudden abandonment of God, wrought upon the psyche of diminishing belief.' (What?) Count the words and the parts of speech in this monster of a sentence (simple? compound? complex? compound-complex?) and separate the dependent clauses from the independent clauses as you try to make out the confusion 'wrought' by noun/pronoun confusion! And you'll agree that the sentence (?) is far from well-wrought! ! My God, Craddock, you've infected me with the bad grammar virus! As for the local atheist, ignore him or you'll lose your immortal soul! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Terence George Craddock (4/26/2010 7:44:00 AM)

    “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold remains one of my most enjoyed intriguing poems from the study of Victorian Prose and Poetry, and I was intrigued by the effect it had upon this stretch of shore, when Victorians flocked to it and stripped it of specimens, as access by train allowed ease of excursions and the origin of species impacted upon curious conflicted minds. Yet I found accepted conceptions of Victorian insight simplistic, their struggles to perceive the changing unsettling reality of a redefined world are sincere probing diverse and sometimes melancholy.
    Arnold seems to have written “Dover Beach” like a deliberate mix of sonnets complete and incomplete to establish a style appropriate to his conflicted age, yet observation of nature turning melancholy is an ancient tradition. Sophocles, Arnold and many of us have listened awed by similar sounds of the tide upon varied beaches; the Aegean reference grounds humanity in past and present and the sea and shore feature heavily in Greek myths and plays, as is expected from ancient seafaring nations, but “Dover Beach” does not allude to a specific play; but rather connects with the sounds of a few lines in Sophocle's 'Antigone'. Sand wind and turbulent sea are still universally appealing reflective topics.
    Arnold writes a poetic invention to solve and address the conflict of ideas and attitudes the scientific challenge of Darwinism, and the religious doubt and confusion it produced in some with a sudden abandonment of God, wrought upon the psyche of diminishing belief. The speaker in “Dover Beach” is Victorian and the sea of faith has ebbed, yet Arnold has a solution in poetry. Arnold wrote in his essays The Study of Poetry, that “without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry”. Arnold put his faith in poetry. The line “Ah, love, let us be true/ to one another! ”, is a declaration of faith to uplift fellow Victorians, and encourage them to stand firm upon a ‘darkling plain’. This love that should remain true and faithful seems to be in this context, Arnold secretly affirming the views of Jesus Christ in The Bible, for a shaken ethnocentric English populous.
    Interesting that the Victorian Web considers Arnold an Agnostic, when he devoted his later life to theological texts and essays and little poetic writing. Arnold redefines religion in Literature and Dogma (1873) , as “morality touched with emotion”. Whatever Arnold’s exact beliefs were, he stands out as a blazing star of inquiry in the Victorian Era. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Gone Away (4/26/2010 7:21:00 AM)

    I don't agree with the idea that a world stripped of faith would be such a bleak and depressing place but I still really enjoyed this poem. The description of the beach is beautiful and poignant. It sets the tone for one who is troubled by the retreating tide of faith in the world. The final stanza calls to his love to be constant, while so much in the world is not. Sometimes after reading the news I recognise this description of the world but not caused by an absence of faith but by an absence of humanity. (Report) Reply

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