For Better for Verse: An interactive learning tool that can help you understand what makes metered poetry in English tick.

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Dover Beach(1867)

Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
MeterThe sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
MeterThe tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
MeterUpon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
MeterGleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
MeterGlimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
MeterCome to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
MeterOnly, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
MeterWhere the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
MeterListen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
MeterOf pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return up the high strand,
MeterAt their return up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
MeterBegin, and cease, and then again begin,

Note on line 12: Not since the tempo-setting opener has Arnold conformed a line perfectly to the iambic meter. Look for other sporadic instances as the poem unfolds, and then for a long run near the close. What does such intermittent regularity convey?

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
MeterWith tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
MeterThe eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
MeterSophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
MeterHeard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
MeterInto his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
MeterOf human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
MeterFind also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
MeterHearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
MeterThe Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
MeterWas once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
MeterLay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
MeterBut now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
MeterIts melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
MeterRetreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
MeterOf the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
MeterAnd naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
MeterAh, love, let us be true

Note on line 29: It’s hard to know how to speak this pivotal line’s pivotal third foot. Does the speaker propose to make an exception of “us” in a faithless world, or to will an existential commitment? To contrast “true” intimacy with the rawness of “the world” out there? Or to counterpoise two meanings of “true”: romantically loyal vs. disenchantedly candid? Only the rest of the strophe can tell. Meanwhile 4B4V, here as throughout the poem, gives stress to the syllable immediately following a marked caesura.

To one another! for the world, which seems
MeterTo one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
MeterTo lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
MeterSo various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
MeterHath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
MeterNor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
MeterAnd we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
MeterSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
MeterWhere ignorant armies clash by night.

Rhyme
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