Treasure Island

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
........................
........................
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  • Michael Pruchnicki (4/26/2008 10:07:00 AM)

    'Dover Beach' by Matthew Arnold is not a descriptive poem about
    a particular stretch of sand where on moonlit nights, an observer
    might see the distant lights of the far shores of France. All the
    earlier comments have focused on that aspect of Arnold's four
    stanza poem.

    The first stanza stresses the roar of the sea as it recedes from
    the beach, which introduces the eternal note of sadness. A far
    cry from 'The sea is calm tonight, ' which is an illusion, a dream
    of something not true in reality!

    Second stanza recalls the great Greek tragic dramatist Sophocles
    on the shores of the sunny Aegean, whose plays explore that
    illusion and the reality that human life is an ebb and flow of misery.

    The Sea of Faith (rise of Christian belief) was once truly catholic,
    a universal faith in redemption held throughout western Europe.
    But in Arnold's day, that belief has been eroded and is receding.

    The final stanza is an apostrophe to a lover, a caution to wake up
    from the illusion of the land of dreams and realize the struggles
    between the ignorant armies of the night that confuse and alarm
    us as we strive to see with clarity the world as it is! (Report) Reply

  • Graeme Lindridge (6/5/2007 6:45:00 PM)

    >Helen Unknown wrote '...could feel the shingle being thrown about by the tide! '

    Well said!

    Listen! you hear the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,

    I believe this means no more than it literally says, that is, it describes the precise action of the sea on a shingle beach. If you have ever been fortunate enough to observe the surge of the sea, you will recall that after a wave has flung itself onto a shingle shore, the water drains back, and in so doing drags vast numbers of pebbles with it. They emit a distinctive sound as they tumble over and over each other and grate together to become rounded and polished. The next surging wave scoops them up and hurls them high onto the shore.

    'Begin, and cease, and again begin, ' is a truly wonderful, but ever so accurate, description of the sea in such a place. We think of a surging sea as always moving but this is not quite so. When a wave draws back from the shore into the sea, there is a short period of time when movement largely ceases preparatory to reversing for the forward onslaught of the next wave.

    I feel that all of the first verse is an exceedingly accurate description and that Matthew Arnold is speaking from experience. Consider things in a purely physical sense: The narrator says he can see the French coast (20+ miles away) so he must be high up on the White Cliffs of Dover. Given the apparent brilliance of the moonlight it is probably about the time of full moon. This means the moon appears to rise out of France (in the east) shortly after sunset. For the next few hours and because the sea is calm the moon's reflection shines brilliantly on the waters of the Straits of Dover ie 'the moon lies fair upon the straits; '

    My own observations of moonlit coasts as 'about the beach I wandered nourishing a youth sublime' support the adjective 'moon-blanched'. I think that's it exactly, although the most memorable moon-blanchedness I can recall is of a valley of grainfields shining in a midnight moonlight. So beautiful and dramatic that I can still 'see' it thirty years on. (Report) Reply

  • Original Unknown Girl (2/1/2007 10:41:00 AM)

    This is a most stunning poem, I love the whole watery theme, could feel the shingle being thrown about by the tide! What a delight to have found this - thank you Jim! HG: -) xx (Report) Reply

  • Nick Hilton (12/21/2005 9:38:00 AM)

    I love this poem. I had to do it when i was but wee as a poerty reader in a competition and despite the fact i really liked it i never got fast the second round because i kept forgetting it.
    Nick (Report) Reply

  • Barbara Goldin (5/2/2005 11:01:00 AM)

    I found a reference to this poem in the new Ian McEwan book 'Saturday' so I came to this web-site, which is new to me, thank you for providing poems and other infomation. Now, I hope to find a contemporary poem in free verse that would express similar emotions! ! ! (Report) Reply

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