Dover Beach

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, New Poems (London: Macmillan, 1867). B-10 2583 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2The tide is full, the moon lies fair
3Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
4Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
5Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
6Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
7Only, from the long line of spray
9Listen! you hear the grating roar
10Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
12Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
13With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
14The eternal note of sadness in.
16Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
17Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
18Of human misery; we
19Find also in the sound a thought,
20Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
21The Sea of Faith
22Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
24But now I only hear
25Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
26Retreating, to the breath
27Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
29Ah, love, let us be true
30To one another! for the world, which seems
31To lie before us like a land of dreams,
32So various, so beautiful, so new,
33Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
34Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
35And we are here as on a darkling plain
36Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,


1] Arnold left behind a holograph copy of the first 28 lines of Dover Beach in manuscript notes on Empedocles on two loose sheets inserted into Thomas J. Wise's copy of Arnold's Empedocles on Etna, now British Library Ashley A17, fol. 2r. (Words in a smaller size are Arnold's additions; and struck words and letters are his deletions.)
            The sea is calm tonight.
            The tide is full; the moon lies fair
                                       on the French coast
            Upon the Straits: the cliffs of the light
            Shines & is gone: the cliffs of England
Glimmering & vast: out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, hush'd is the night air.
            Only from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon blanch'd sand
Listen, you hear the grating roar,
Of pebbles which the waves suck back & fling
At their return, up the steep strand
Cease and begin and then begin
With regular cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
In to 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 abright garment 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 I &c
S. O. A. Ullmann, in "Dating Through Calligraphy: The Example of `Dover Beach,'" Studies in Bibliography, uses handwriting evidence to date this draft between June 1851 and April 1852. Arnold visited Dover with his new bride, Frances Lucy Wightman, in late June 1851 (they had married on June 10) and again on October 8 in that year, facts that have led others independently to date the poem's composition at that time. Arnold's closing words, "Ah love I &c", show that the rest of the poem had already been written by the time he wrote this draft. Arnold thus held on to the complete poem without publishing it until 1867, for fifteen years. Back to Line
8] moon-blanch'd: whitened by the moon. Back to Line
11] the high strand: upper part of a coastline, perhaps what lies just above the tide-marks. Back to Line
15] Cf. Sophocles' Antigone, 583 ff.:
[583] Blest are those whose days have not tasted of evil. For when a house has once been shaken by the gods,
[585] no form of ruin is lacking, but it spreads over the bulk of the race, just as, when the surge is driven over the darkness of the deep by the fierce breath of Thracian sea-winds,
[590] it rolls up the black sand from the depths, and the wind-beaten headlands that front the blows of the storm give out a mournful roar.
(The Antigone of Sophocles, ed. Sir Richard Jebb [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891]; see Perseus edition at; his Trachiniae, 112 ff.:
For just as one may see billow after billow
[115] advancing and passing over the wide deep before the tireless south-wind, or the north, so the great toil of his life, stormy as the Cretan sea, now whirls back the heir of Cadmus, now exalts him.
(The Trachiniae of Sophocles, ed. Sir Richard Jebb [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1892]); and his Oedipus at Colonus, 1239 ff.:
In such years is this poor man here, not I alone. [1240] Like some cape that fronts the north which is lashed on every side by the waves of winter, so he also is fiercely lashed evermore by the dread disasters that break on him like the surf, some from the region of the setting sun,
[1245] some from that of its rising, some in the realm of its noon-time rays, some from the gloom-wrapped hills of the North.
Back to Line
23] girdle: belt. Back to Line
28] shingles: round, loose, waterworn pebbles on the seashore. Back to Line
37] Buckner B. Trawick proposes that Arnold was influenced by a passage in Arthur Hugh Clough's "The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich," published in 1848:
I am sorry to say your Providence puzzles me sadly;
Children of circumstance are we to be? you answer, On no wise!
Where does Circumstance end, and Providence where begins it?
In the revolving sphere which is upper, which is under?
What are we to resist, and what are we to be friends with?
If there is battle, 'tis battle by night: I stand in the darkness,
Here in the mélee of men, Ionian and Dorian on both sides,
Signal and password known; which is friend and which is foeman?
Is it a friend? I doubt, though he speak with the voice of a brother ....
Yet it is my feeling rather to ask, Where is the battle?
Yes, I could find in my heart to cry, in spite of my Elspie ....
Would that the armies indeed were arrayed, O where is the battle!
Neither battle I see, nor arraying, nor King in Israel,
Only infinite jumble and mess and dislocation,
Backed by a solemn appeal, "For God's sake do not stir there!"
The two verbal resemblances between Clough's poem and Arnold's, the phrase "by night" and the word "armies," make a direct influence less likely than their joint indebtedness to Thucydides' account, in his history of the Peloponnesian War, of the night fight at Epipolae, which took place "upon a plain at the top of a cliff, in the moonlight, so that the soldiers could not distinguish clearly between friend and foe, with the resulting flight of certain Athenian troops, and various `alarms,' watchwords, and battle-cries shouted aloud to the increasing confusion of all" (Tinker and Lowry, Commentary, 175). Because the enemy learned the Athenians' password, they could not tell friend from enemy. Matthew's father Thomas Arnold popularized this incident when he was head of Rugby school (see Warren D. Anderson, Matthew Arnold and the Classical Tradition, 70-71) and edited Thucydides from 1830 to 1835. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.255.