on Dover beach


By Grand Central Station

I sat down and cried
Elizabeth Smart 1945


once I slept on Dover Beach
oh lack-a-day
my boat for France
had sailed away without me
I became a castaway let’s say
in my own country

on Dover Beach
I laid me down and slept
on Dover Beach
I never wept

beneath the promenade wall
in seaside shingle I dug a hole
for my bony hip
put my baggage under
my not-so-sleepy head
awaited a revelatory call

I may have made this up
yet an enchanted distance ago
did flee from failure
and then the beach-bed snug
my sleeping bag just so
the night is young the mood is mellow*

on Dover Beach

I closed my eyes
on Dover Beach
I dreamed of sunrise

that long ago night
I was confounded
poor sleeper though I am
I didn’t lie locked in strife
with the meaning of life
as Matthew Arnold once did

no ignorant armies
clashed by night
on my dreamy beach
I slept alright alright
woke up the same man
I was when I laid down

on Dover Beach
I laid alone
my heart was still
my breath mine own

before I boarded
for France next day
I wandered into Dover
for a petit dejeuner
thinking of how Matthew Arnold
once did gaze toward Calais

how he ground out from home
his memorable lines:
for better or worse
they’ve survived triumphant
in every anthology
of deathless English verse

on Dover Beach
I thought of him
lamenting his lost England
driven by his poetry
Matthew Arnold poet and gent
on his way to posterity

on Dover Beach
I heard the lovely moan
of old Matthew Arnold
adrift and alone



Jeff Cloves
Illustration: Claire Palmer


*not Matthew Arnold’s words
but from Vaughn Toulouse and Mike Herbage’s
great mysterious and surreal song ‘Is Vic There?’
by Department S (Demon Records 1980)
its minimalist lyric repeats and repeats…..

The night is young

the mood is mellow
and there’s music in my ears
say: ‘Is Vic there?’
I hear ringing in the air
so I answer the phone
a voice comes over clear
‘Is Vic there? Is Vic there? Is Vic there….

’Vaughan Toulouse’ (born Vaughn Cotillard)
chose his own name (Born to lose?) he died aged 31

The New Penguin Book of English Verse (2000)
states that Dover Beach was first published in 1867;
other sources suggest it was written eight years earlier.

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4 Responses to on Dover beach

    1. What a wonderful, surreal illustration and this- “On Dover Beach” opened some new doors indeed.
      A mental time machine.
      Drifting to Fritz Lang’s eerie, noir-ish “Clash by Night” to a youtube of “Is Vic There”.
      Mahalo to Jeff Cloves and Claire Palmer.

      Comment by Edward P Johnston on 25 July, 2021 at 5:40 pm
    2. Thankyou Edward!

      Comment by Claire on 25 July, 2021 at 6:07 pm
    3. I agree Edward – Claire Palmer’s phantom Matthew Arnold gazing toward Calais
      is a properly surreal representation of the poem
      and yet another example of just why
      she’s such an excellent illustrator

      Comment by jeff cloves on 25 July, 2021 at 11:10 pm
    4. Thanks Jeff!

      Comment by Claire on 26 July, 2021 at 5:55 pm

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