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.
Recently the words of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” have been echoing like a mantra in my head: “Ah, love, let us be true to one another!” The past few weeks have been a cavalcade of tragedies, from bombings to mass shootings to police brutality to sniper executions. In my white, middle-class corner of Northwest Arkansas, it’s difficult to place these events in any sort of meaningful perspective. And sadly, my first inclination is to hold them at arm’s length, to refuse these events and their implications entrance into my thoughts. But they must be faced. This is the world we live in.
And so I’ve turned, navel-gazing introspective that I am, to literature to help me, not to make sense of these atrocities—for I simply cannot fathom the ideologies of hate that spur such violence—but to at least absorb them, to admit them into my reality.
In “Dover Beach” the speaker seeks to find some means to navigate the world he finds himself in, a world whose tremulous cadence is an eternal note of sorrow. He mourns the receding Sea of Faith, blaming its retreat for the senseless misery of life as he knows it. His only consolation: love.
While this poem deals more with existential angst than with tragedy, and the speaker turns more to individual romantic love than to love in the broader sense, I’ve still found myself circling round this parting stanza. Sometimes I, too, feel stranded on a darkling plain, beset by confused alarms and clashes by night. But I, too, turn to the only answer there ever was or is: love.
To conclude, I offer the benediction I wrote for my church’s service the morning after the Orlando shooting:
If we let it, this world will set us adrift, sever every tether as the winds of tragedy and enmity buffet us this way and that.
Because it is so easy to hate.
But a man laughs as he pumps round after round into screaming, pleading victims, a brutal reminder that this is the face of hate. These are the depths it beckons us to.
So we must, at all costs, embrace and embody love—that life-giving movement toward others in the world.
So let us move.
Let us love.