Dover Beach – M. Arnold

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.

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14 Responses to Dover Beach – M. Arnold

  1. Graeme says:

    Thank you for posting this. I truly want to better appreciate poetry. I think it gives me trouble because I read too fast, and don’t pronounce the words aloud in my head as I read. It works well for prose, but tends to ruin poetry.
    I almost skipped this one by, for the same bad reasons. But since it was you who posted it, and I generally trust your judgment, I told myself to slow down and assume it had merit.
    I pronounced the words in my imagination, and let myself hear the roar of the tides. And then I saw its beauty.

  2. Kieran says:

    Thank you.

  3. Robert C. says:

    Col. Lang, Have you read “The Road”?…I thought of the book as I read the poem. Thanks.

  4. frank durkee says:

    Sums up so much that I have lived within and seen around me in my over 70 years, including almost 50 as an ordained Episcopal priest.
    There is a ‘rightness’ in it’s being quoted here where so much else that seems to ebbing in the great world of political, economic, military, and social chices and risks is seen and spoken of.
    Thank you.

  5. Nicollo says:

    Arnold was more eloquent and subtle, but Lt. Col. McCrae got it right too:
    In Flanders Fields
    By John McCrae
    In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.
    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.
    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch, be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

  6. Nicollo says:

    And while I’m at it, the best stuff Peggy Noonan ever wrote for Ronald Reagan:
    This was an emotional day. The ceremonies honoring the fortieth anniversary of D day became more than commemorations. They became celebrations of heroism and sacrifice. This place, Pointe du Hoc, in itself was moving and majestic. I stood there on that windswept point with the ocean behind me. Before me were the boys who forty years before had fought their way up from the ocean. Some rested under the white crosses and Stars of David that stretched out across the landscape. Others sat right in front of me. They looked like elderly businessmen, yet these were the kids who climbed the cliffs.
    We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
    We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mighties of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
    The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers – at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.
    Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
    These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
    Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air singed with your honor.”
    I think I know what you may be thinking right now – thinking “we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.” Well, everyone was.
    — from Remarks at the U.S. Ranger Monument
    Pointe Du Hoc, France
    June 6, 1984

  7. Leanderthal says:

    A timeless ode to the futility of war.

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    I agree. The Second World War was futile. (irony alert) pl

  9. johnf says:

    Religions are for young and poor nations and societies. Mature and dying civilizations don’t bother with them.
    A fascinating article on the real struggle between Christianity and Islam not in the West or in the Middle East but in Africa and Indonesia – with christianity as the young and aggressive religion:
    If I was an anglican or catholic prelate I wouldn’t be wasting my time on gay or women priests, I’d be working against time to engineer a working and liberal relationship and understanding between these two great religions.

  10. HJFJR says:

    Herbert Nash Dillard would be proud.

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    I remember him reading it aloud in class in Scott Shipp Hall. pl

  12. B. D. Warbucks says:

    I first read “Dover Beach” during Survey of English Lit at our BAM. I, too, read it in Scott Shipp Hall, though Col. Dillard was but a ghost when I walked the bricks.
    It has remained in my memory for lo!, these many years. Thank you for invoking some pleasant memories.
    Arnold’s verse still holds true today.
    ck ’82

  13. Brett J says:

    This was moving, resonant. My English cliffs are the rocky shores of Gloucester and Salem. thanks.

  14. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Since the Lenten season is upon us, I at least try to read a little theology, but with little aptitude for such endeavors, my success rate is questionable at best. And, alas, the “disordered” life continues. It is what it is.
    Nonetheless this year, I have looked East, perhaps somewhat like the beginning of Arnold’s poem, and the experience has opened the door and allowed me to catch a glimpse of the sublime beauty of Orthodoxy, particularly Greek and Russian.
    Alexander Schmemann – one of the truly great Orthodox theologians – wrote “The Eucharist” and while reading the book, it dawned on me, at least to a certain extent, why JPII yearned for a unity between East and West, what he called the two lungs of the Church.
    Schmemann contrasts the Orthodox approach with that of Vonier and, perhaps depending on the reader’s myers briggs profile, Schmemann shines a new light on the concept of symbolism — one that brings back to life the very essence of a sacramental experience. And to those imbued with the Orthodox experience, all of life is a sacrament.
    Western arrogance may create a blind spot that prevents people from opening up and looking East. But the East gave us Dostoevsky. And what lately from the post modern West to match? The Unbearable Lightness of Being?
    So once you put aside Western assumptions, even if briefly, and go East, you will see that the Divine Litury is in and of itself the experience of a sacramental “rapture” of those assembled in the Church, both priest and laity.
    And if you couple Schmemann’s work with Scott Hahn’s Catholic book titled “The Lamb’s Supper”, then it is very easy to see that the Book of Revelations is the sacred architecture underlining the Mass or Divine Liturgy. So Revelations and the “rapture” – as Hagee would call it – has nothing to do with helicopters, racists, killing innocents and war.
    The Orthodox experience places a premium on the experience that arises from the concept of “Nous”. And, simply to tie this concept into “strategic intel analysis” – or the complete lack thereof – it is important to note that two of the false prophets of the Pentagon, Schmitt and Shulsky, wrote the extraordinarily sophomoric essay, “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By which we do not mean Nous).”
    And with those words, particularly with the parenthetical wink, wink, “we are so esoteric and you are not” gibberish, Schmitt and Shulsky unwittingly confessed to and revealed the profound lack of any wisdom that underlies strategic intel analysis that arises out of the Pentagon. History continues to bear this out but nothing has changed because the Hubris remains the same.
    Schmemann operates at much higher level of consciousness. And his work may act as a stepping stone that will take one from Arnold’s poem to Yeat’s Sailing to Byzantium.

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