Where ignorant armies clash by night

For a chapter I am currently drafting, I’ve been reading (and rereading etc.) this poem by Matthew Arnold. I’m not a huge fan of his poetry (however much I love his essays), but this is a gem.

Matthew Arnold: Dover Beach

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 Ægæan, 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 furl’d.
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.

(Text copied from here)


4 thoughts on “Where ignorant armies clash by night

  1. A poem we learned at school among other sea poems, Britain being the ‘right little, tight little island’ that it is.

    Another by John Masefield of the same ilk:

    And yes, I too love ‘Dover Beach’, its calm and peace, the quiet eternity of it and Masefield’s ‘I must go down to the seas again…’


    But then again, I have a passionate love of the sea – not the lukewarm Med but the open sea of the French, English, Portuguese, Irish westerly coasts… The windswept clouds, the distant horizon, the turbulent life of the sea itself with its ever-changing surface, the SMELL…

    Forget the lakes, the rivers and the Med – the open sea and the endless horizon for me.

  2. A poem that makes one reflect on the futility of war, struggle and needless gain.
    Surprising, though, that a poem with a peaceful title like ‘Dover Beach’ ends up evoking the pains of war.

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