Monday, April 05, 2010

The Sea of Faith

Over the weekend, I read something about Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" being considered in two recent books. (Sorry, don't recall specifics; the link is to the poem.) So I thought I'd go back to it and noticed a stanza that wasn't the center of my previous readings.
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.
The poem was published in 1867. Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. The American Civil War was ended at the cost of Abraham Lincoln's life, and Andrew Johnson was not doing a very good job at reconstruction or much else. Serfs and slaves were being freed in many countries.

So was it Faith or some preferred understanding of the world that was Retreating, to the breath/ of the night-wind? Perhaps both.

And now we have Faith of both the religious and governmental kinds Retreating once again. I'm hoping that the denouement isn't as bleak as Arnold's.
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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