Thursday, 31 May 2012

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

Poems aren't everyone's cup of tea. They are usually not straightforward. They can be enigmatic, cerebral and even convoluted. But if it is a good poem, you can just let it wash over you. Allow yourself to be sucked in. Try to unconsciously feel the words instead of intellectually grasping them. If you get lost in incomprehensible metaphors at any time, carry on and trust that you will find your way back again.

Once you're really familiar with the poem, once you wear it like a comfortable old jumper, feel free to do a background check. Look for references, research symbolic meanings, by all means count stanzas. It might lead to another level of appreciation and understanding, but in my opinion it is not the most vital part in getting a poem, in loving it like you love a song without neccessarily understanding the lyrics.

This is one of my favourites. It is about faith and doubt, and about love among the seas of change.

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 suck 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 Aegan, 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.

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