≡ Menu


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 Aegean, 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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • PA Cat February 5, 2021, 12:27 PM

    Literary critics generally assume that Arnold wrote “Dover Beach” on his honeymoon in 1851. In the current cultural situation, the poet’s appeal to being “true to one another” seems like a forlorn hope. It’s already been half a century since 1967, when Anthony Hecht wrote a parody of Arnold’s poem titled “The Dover Bitch”:

    So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
    With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
    And he said to her, ‘Try to be true to me,
    And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad
    All over, etc., etc.’
    Well now, I knew this girl. It’s true she had read
    Sophocles in a fairly good translation
    And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
    But all the time he was talking she had in mind
    The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
    On the back of her neck. She told me later on
    That after a while she got to looking out
    At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
    Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
    And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
    And then she got really angry. To have been brought
    All the way down from London, and then be addressed
    As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
    Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
    Anyway, she watched him pace the room
    And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
    And then she said one or two unprintable things.
    But you mustn’t judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
    She’s really all right. I still see her once in a while
    And she always treats me right. We have a drink
    And I give her a good time, and perhaps it’s a year
    Before I see her again, but there she is,
    Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
    And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d’ Amour.

  • LP February 5, 2021, 1:07 PM

    Matthew Arnold’s poem is beautifully written. We don’t have many (any?) poets writing beautifully today. When I was a student he was my favorite.

  • Mitchell O Strand February 5, 2021, 1:29 PM

    I have this one up in my cube at work, along with Ozymandias and Tennyson’s Ulysses (you know the part). It’s become more meaningful to me as I’ve gotten older and let go a lot of things of my youth.

  • Casey Klahn February 5, 2021, 5:17 PM

    Beautifully illustrated by a Washington beach.

    I know a blog author whose bona fidas at poetry are top notch. Gerard Van der Leun.

  • Brian Brandt February 7, 2021, 5:23 AM

    Thanks for the poem. I needed cheering up.