Sunday, April 25, 2010

Matthew Arnold & Dover Beach

Matthew Arnold, born on 24 December 1822 in Laleham, Middlesex, England, was poet, critic and schools inspector - not a combination you see every day! From his natal chart (set for 12 noon in the absence of a time of birth) it's clear that the man's personality was dominated by Earthy traits. (Click on chart to enlarge).

In Capricorn (cardinal Earth) was Sun/Venus/Neptune/Uranus/Mars - the first four being conjoined and providing a classic signature for a poet. Sun(self) Venus(the arts) Neptune (creativity, imagination) Uranus (inventiveness and change).
Earthy Taurus Moon (whatever his birth time) and Saturn in Taurus harmoniously in trine with his Capricorn cluster, contributes even more innate Earthiness translating as practicality, stability (Capricorn), love of nature, sensuality (Taurus).

From Matthew Arnold's portrait he has the looks traditionally associated with Capricorn: craggy, lean, a little harsh.

His career as schools inspector, and literary & social critic was driven by rigidly structured Capricorn with a severe and practical Saturn in trine from Taurus. His alternative poetic self was surely driven by Taurus Moon and the Venus/Neptune conjunction. It's an unusual combination in a personality, but it worked for him!

My favourite poem of his, one we studied in school long ago: Dover Beach. My school was on the north-eastern coast of England, so nowhere near Dover Beach in the south, but we too were no strangers to the sea, its tides and its moods. This poem was written, we are told, while Matthew Arnold was on honeymoon, in mid-19th century Britain. The industrial revolution was then in full swing, bringing changes to all areas of life. It's not hard to imagine how unsettleing that must have felt.

Imagine Mr. Arnold, with his new wife, gazing on the scene from an open window in their hotel, he philosophising, trying no doubt to impress his beloved. He sees the sea and its tides as a metaphor for life: its beauty is obvious but there are underlying problems and dangers in its cycles. As he perceives it, an outgoing tide of faith has left the world "in a darkling plain swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night". We can relate to that still, here in 2010, far as we may be from Dover Beach.

By Matthew Arnold

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 Agean, 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.

Dover Beach.


Anonymous said...

Great piece! Thanks. Reminds of pediatrician/poet William Carlos Williams. Sun/Venus/Uranus Virgo trine Taurus Neptune. I love your blog BTW.

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


Wisewebwoman said...

Oh thanks for this, T. I was only familiar with the last verse prior to this.

anthonynorth said...

That's a great poem. I love beaches.

Twilight said...

Ms Salerno ~~~ Hi there!
I'm not familiar with William Carlos Williams' poems - I'll take pleasure in investigating them though.

Thank you for your kind comment - and that nice piece of poetry. :-)

Twilight said...

WWW and anthonynorth ~~ Glad you enjoyed this. :-)