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       Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

                      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 ebb meets the moon-blanch'd sand,
    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 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.


For a response to this poem, see Anthony Hecht's The Dover Bitch *.

First published in 1867, the above poem can be found, for example, in:

  • Arnold, Matthew. The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840-1867. New York: Oxford University Press, 1926.
  • Harmon, William, ed. The Classic Hundred Poems (Second Edition). New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.