For the past few years, I have been almost obsessed with Tom Odell. He is a brilliant artist and if you have not listened to any of his songs, you should go check some of them out (I force my friends to listen to him, who says I can’t do the same to you too?). Lately, I have been constantly listening to “Constellations” and for some reason I got this feeling that the lyrics were quite familiar. Turns out they are not, but a few weeks ago I had to write a response paper on Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” and then it dawned on me. The feeling the song has, is kinda similar to Arnold’s. Their approach to love is hopeful and that is something which is hard to find nowadays in our contemporary music industry or in poetry in Victorian era (or in general really. Such powerful poems or songs often tend to be more pessimistic.)
There was this stanza in “Dover Beach” that made me associate it with Odell’s song.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, 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.
In the poem, the persona stands by the window looking over the sea (and giving us way too many sea imagery-even when you look at the poem, the form looks like the tides: ebbing and flowing) talks to his lover, who very conveniently silent throughout the poem as if she was a mere object in the room. In the lines above, the persona compares himself, his standing, to that of Sophocles. The sea is the same sea (though they are not looking at the exact same sea) it stays constant but only time and conditions have changed. Arnold has a more pessimistic tone here though, he believes the world to be full of misery and there can be no absolute trust and happiness. This is likened to the sea, these comings and goings of feelings, but the sea is constant (literally and allegorically). Even in Sophocles’ time this sea of misery was there and it will be so in the future (and let’s face it, after almost 150 years, the misery is still present if not entirely turned into an ocean). But in the end, the persona holds on to the love he shares with his lover (I am guessing the persona is meant to be Arnold and the lover his wife as they honeymooned there) in this world of appearances: “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 sees love as some higher power that could save him.
Similarly, Odell talks about “the same old constellations” that would “look different” because he is with his lover. The atmosphere is similar to the poem’s; here the candle as the light source “lying low” whereas the starts are the only light sources coming through the windows in Arnold’s poem. This lover is kinda alone (“There’s people all around us but they’re leaving you alone”) and nostalgic (“You’re telling me a story, some lover that you had”) and just like Arnold’s is silent in the song-though she has a name here which is an improvement. Odell also places importance upon love which is so strong a concept that can change how the individual views the world.
I do not have much to say really. These are all minor similarities and they both give me the same vibe, although I am still hoping that maybe, just maybe, Tom Odell read “Dover Beach” because how can he not, and thought: “You know what? These stars can be used in a better way in another context.” Although the personas of the poem and song are in completely different situations, looking at different things in very different eras in time; they have this same trust in love to act as some kind of a shield (so yeah like a patronus) against the world that they are facing. Arnold thought of Sophocles when looking at the sea (although he is supposedly talking to his lover), maybe Odell was thinking of Arnold whilst he was writing this who knows? This can be me reading too much into this, but at least you get to listen to an awesome song and read an awesome poem!