Dover Beach "Melancholy, Long, Withdrawing Roar"
by Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach book cover
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"Melancholy, Long, Withdrawing Roar"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: With a loved one, the poet looks out across the Straits of Dover toward the French coast and listens to the endless washing movement, landward and seaward, of the waves which seem to him to "bring/ The eternal note of sadness in." In ancient Greece, Sophocles heard the sound and was reminded of "the turbid ebb and flow/ Of human misery. . . ." To Arnold, whose religious faith–like that of many of his contemporaries–had been weakened by the influence of such scientific ideas as those of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, the waves' sound has a very different meaning, and he sadly comments:

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.