The white cliffs of Dover Beach in England.

The white cliffs of Dover Beach in England.

Dover Beach is one of the great poems in the English language. Written by Mathew Arnold (1822-1888), known more for his great cultural and literary criticism rather than his poetry, this poem nevertheless is a gem of beauty. It may been known to many people, but in today’s educational and cultural environment, I would not be surprised if many students graduating from a university with a degree in English have never even read this. After all, Arnold was not a black lesbian; rather, as a white male he is officially one of the great enemies of the modern Leftist zeitgeist which dominates nearly all of academia.

Still, great poetry fortunately transcends the idiocies of modern thought. What is hauntingly beautiful about his poem is the deep melancholy expressed, a melancholy which is born from the deepening lack of religious faith that Arnold saw overtaking his society. The world in which this poem was written, that of Victorian England at its most glorious, might seem today exceedingly religious. And yet for Arnold, it was not. Imagine what he would think of today’s world.

In addition to a poem about faith, it is also a love poem. Arnold is addressing his young wife in the poem, “Ah, love, let us be true/ to one another!” and he appeals to the power of love to help overcome the dissolution of religious belief.

The beauty of great poem does wonders for the soul. Like good music, it is really not something that can be truly quantified, but rather, it is better simply to appreciate it, to let it infuse the mind and heart with whatever nuances and images and verbal rhythms and echoes it possesses. And this poem possesses all that to the full.

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 Ægean, 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.