…for the world, which seemsTo 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 plainSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night. (Lines 30-37)
These lines are taken from Matthew Arnold’s famous elegiac poem Dover Beach. The sight of the high tide and the low of the seawater near the Dover beach makes the poet reflective and pensive. He begins to think of modern life as compared with life in the ancient world and refers to the sad tragedy of later life.
Arnold is full of despondency, as he perceives the utter lack of faith in the modern world. There is nothing enduring or enlivening in modern life. Of course, this life appears externally enchanting, full of variety, plenty, and beauty. Yet, there is nothing substantial or steady in this world that has no real joy and enlightenment to offer. Arnold expresses his regret for the wretchedness of modern life, which has no sustainable power, without anything certain, peaceful, or inspiring. The modern age is bereft of joy, love, and peace. This has a dull, passive, and sluggish existence. The whole state is deeply sad and makes one apprehensive of the dreadful future.
The lines bear out Arnold’s disgust at modern life. His reflection on the degenerated state of living of this age is mightily suggested here. Of course, the poet’s approach is based on his fundamental theory that poetry is a criticism of life. This, however, implies a contrast between what life is and what life ought to have been. Arnold tries to imply here what modern life is lacking and its requirement of faith and love for survival.