April 20, 2007
Matthew Arnold: “Dover Beach”
It’s been a painful and frustrating week, between the VT shooting and all the politicizing that followed, the Supreme Court decision regarding the so-called partial-birth abortion ban (no, I haven’t said anything about it yet, largely because I just don’t know what to say anymore–on the other hand, I feel like I have too much to say, but at the same time much of it is already being said, so check out those links if you want more), the Attorney General’s testimony, the FDA continuing to react in a half-hearted manner to discovery of the tainted ingredients in the nation’s pet foods (“Over on Howl 911, Nikki has made the point that what the FDA is doing would sound ridiculous if human food products were involved”), 3,315 American soldiers dead in Iraq, and probably more that I’m not remembering at the moment. This, then, seemed a fairly appropriate day for that old favorite (well, at least among geeky English majors like me), “Dover Beach.”
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.
–Matthew Arnold, ca. 1851