Thursday 3 December 2009

On a Darkling Plain

Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach is a splendid poem, full of deep, melancholic beauty. For him it was about the loss of faith and the decay of tradition. For me the meaning casts wider: it’s about a world with no point of reference whatsoever. The last verse in particular makes me so sad.

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 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.


  1. Certainly, one of the grandest and most melancholy of all poems. A friend in college had the final stanza inscribed in a locket which he gave as a gift to his fiancee. Arnold and his contemporaries were devastated by the prospect of a universe devoid of God. One gets a glimpse of the same pessimistic vision of bereft humanity in Thomas Hardy's novels.

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