the darkling plain: a reader’s interpretation


Excerpts from: Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold,
With parenthetical translations by me

L1 The sea is calm tonight [magic in nature]

L13 With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
L14 The eternal note of sadness in. [anthropomorphizing the waves; they are sad]

L21 The Sea of Faith
L22 Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore [again, the waves are made human-like, with the trait of Faith]

L24 But now I only hear
L25 It’s melancholy, long, withdrawing roar [more imagination used in describing the waves]

L29 Ah, love, let us be true
L30 To one another! [The sea may be old and untrue but we can be fresh and new!]

L35 And we are here as on a darkling plain
L36 Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight [The world is so uncertain]

If Arnold’s love, to whom he is trying to convince, were me, I would be certainly swayed by his magical metaphor with the sea. Instead, as a reader of his poem, I am taken by his use of descriptive words, and his ultimate denoument, in which the love may or may not be consummated, but the world will struggle on.

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