Matthew Arnold’s overview of the receding tide of Dover Beach and the metaphor it offers for the retreat of faith, comes from the Victorian era, but without the optimism often attached to that period. A powerful poem, which argues, in the end, for the importance of individual love against the bleak forces of “a darkling plain”.


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 sea meets the moon-blanch’d 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.

(to be concluded tomorrow)