Dover Beach

Matthew Arnold - 1822-1888
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.

More by Matthew Arnold

The Buried Life

   Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,  
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!  
I feel a nameless sadness o'er me roll.  
   Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,  
We know, we know that we can smile;     
But there 's a something in this breast,  
To which thy light words bring no rest,  
And thy gay smiles no anodyne;  
   Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,  
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,    
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.  
  
   Alas! is even love too weak  
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?  
Are even lovers powerless to reveal  
To one another what indeed they feel?       
I knew the mass of men conceal'd  
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal'd  
They would by other men be met  
With blank indifference, or with blame reprov'd;  
I knew they liv'd and mov'd       
Trick'd in disguises, alien to the rest  
Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet  
The same heart beats in every human breast.  
  
   But we, my love—does a like spell benumb  
Our hearts—our voices?—must we too be dumb?     
  
   Ah, well for us, if even we,  
Even for a moment, can get free  
Our heart, and have our lips unchain'd;  
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain'd!  
  
   Fate, which foresaw  
How frivolous a baby man would be,
By what distractions he would be possess'd,  
How he would pour himself in every strife,  
And well-nigh change his own identity; 
That it might keep from his capricious play   
His genuine self, and force him to obey,  
Even in his own despite his being's law,  
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast  
The unregarded River of our Life  
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;   
And that we should not see  
The buried stream, and seem to be  
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,  
Though driving on with it eternally.  
  
   But often, in the world's most crowded streets,    
But often, in the din of strife,  
There rises an unspeakable desire  
After the knowledge of our buried life,  
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force  
In tracking out our true, original course;     
A longing to inquire  
Into the mystery of this heart which beats  
So wild, so deep in us, to know  
Whence our lives come and where they go.  
And many a man in his own breast then delves,    
But deep enough, alas, none ever mines! 
And we have been on many thousand lines,  
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power,  
But hardly have we, for one little hour,  
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves;      
Hardly had skill to utter one of all  
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,  
But they course on for ever unexpress'd.  
And long we try in vain to speak and act  
Our hidden self, and what we say and do       
Is eloquent, is well—but 'tis not true!  
   And then we will no more be rack'd  
With inward striving, and demand  
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour  
Their stupefying power;     
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!  
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,  
From the soul's subterranean depth upborne  
As from an infinitely distant land,  
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey      
A melancholy into all our day.  
  
   Only—but this is rare—  
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,  
When, jaded with the rush and glare  
Of the interminable hours,        
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,  
When our world-deafen'd ear  
Is by the tones of a lov'd voice caress'd—  
   A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast  
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again!       
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,  
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know,  
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,  
And hears its winding murmur, and he sees  
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
  
   And there arrives a lull in the hot race  
Wherein he doth for ever chase  
The flying and elusive shadow, Rest.  
An air of coolness plays upon his face,  
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast. 
   And then he thinks he knows  
The hills where his life rose,  
And the Sea where it goes.

Isolation: To Marguerite

We were apart; yet, day by day,
I bade my heart more constant be.
I bade it keep the world away,
And grow a home for only thee;
Nor fear'd but thy love likewise grew,
Like mine, each day, more tried, more true.

The fault was grave! I might have known,
What far too soon, alas! I learn'd—
The heart can bind itself alone,
And faith may oft be unreturn'd.
Self-sway'd our feelings ebb and swell—
Thou lov'st no more;—Farewell! Farewell!

Farewell!—and thou, thou lonely heart,
Which never yet without remorse
Even for a moment didst depart
From thy remote and spherèd course
To haunt the place where passions reign—
Back to thy solitude again!

Back! with the conscious thrill of shame
Which Luna felt, that summer-night,
Flash through her pure immortal frame,
When she forsook the starry height
To hang over Endymion's sleep
Upon the pine-grown Latmian steep.

Yet she, chaste queen, had never proved
How vain a thing is mortal love,
Wandering in Heaven, far removed.
But thou hast long had place to prove
This truth—to prove, and make thine own:
"Thou hast been, shalt be, art, alone."

Or, if not quite alone, yet they
Which touch thee are unmating things—
Ocean and clouds and night and day;
Lorn autumns and triumphant springs;
And life, and others' joy and pain,
And love, if love, of happier men.

Of happier men—for they, at least,
Have dream'd two human hearts might blend
In one, and were through faith released
From isolation without end
Prolong'd; nor knew, although not less
Alone than thou, their loneliness.

Requiescat

Strew on her roses, roses,   
  And never a spray of yew.   
In quiet she reposes:   
  Ah! would that I did too.   
  
Her mirth the world required:
  She bathed it in smiles of glee.   
But her heart was tired, tired,   
  And now they let her be.   
  
Her life was turning, turning,   
  In mazes of heat and sound.
But for peace her soul was yearning,   
  And now peace laps her round.   
  
Her cabin'd, ample Spirit,   
  It flutter'd and fail'd for breath.   
To-night it doth inherit
  The vasty hall of Death.