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about "Dover Beach"

This piece was inspired by the lyric poem "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold. The poem itself is both complex and compelling, and many literary minds have disagreed on how, why, and when the poem was actually put together.

Strip away all the extra noise of analysis and criticism, and what you are left with is a tragic love story. Underneath the calm and tranquil exterior of the beach at night, there sounds an "eternal note of sadness." It is the same sadness that has always been heard, and always will be. Amid the uncertainty and chaos of a world always at war, the only refuge that can be found comes from remaining ever true to those we love.

Although it is not a long poem, Arnold's verse is epic in scale. It begins with a simple moment, then connects it to a thread that weaves throughout all of human history.

Similarly, this piece of music is not very long. I did not try to emulate the complexity of the poem, instead focusing on the serene sadness and beautiful melancholy that pervades the work.

I conceived my "Dover Beach" as the soundtrack to a scene in a movie. Two lovers are on a beach. The night is calm and peaceful, yet they know this tranquility will not last. In the morning, he is off to war, and they do not know when, or if, they will see each other again. All they can do is hold on to each other, and to this night, promising that their love will remain true.

—MH

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold
published 1867, probably written ca. 1851

 

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-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 A gaean, 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.

 

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