Matthew Arnold, the late 19th century author of "Dover Beach", one of the greatest, and best loved poems in the English language, was a very modern man. He lived through.. what WE are living through (there really is no excuse for our constant exceptionalism, the human condition has remained the same for millenia now...). He was a poet, a critic, a genius. And... Dinky, there is NO WAY to prechew poetry, unlike philosophy, history, and the rest...
"The sea is calm tonight.
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-blanched 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 Aegean, 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 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.
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." 1867
Samuel Barber set "Dover Beach" to music, and Fischer-Dieskau recorded it. I can not read the poem without hearing the music now, but... no matter. Both music and poetry are beautiful.
If you read the third strophe aloud "the sea of faith...", you will notice that it is in two breaths, and that at the end of the second breath, you will be dying for air, and will be forced to inspire on.. "ah love". Very well done, that. Try reading the poem aloud. Poetry is made to be read aloud.
Thai, this poem structures Ian McEwan's book "Saturday", about a day in the life of an eminent London neurosurgeon, a day during which his assumptions about his world, his work, his ethics, everything, are put to the test. You would enjoy this novel, I think. It would... challenge you.
This is not zero sums, but... I think that it is fair to say that historical apres-coup, the fact of looking back on our collective history has the effect of convincing us that the world in which our predecessors lived MUST HAVE SEEMED less confusing, less problematic, more simple, sometimes BETTER to THEM than ours does to us...
This is sheer delusion...