Dover Beach : by Matthew Arnold || Analysis

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Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; -- on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, 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.
The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

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.

The sea is calm to-night, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; -- on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in.
Dover Beach

Critical Analysis

      Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold was written in 1851 although it was published in the New Poems in 1867. The poem has a close parallel to the poems Arnold wrote fifteen years before. It is a short poem, but it embraces a great range and depth of significance. He discloses his melancholy preoccupation with the thought of the inevitable decline of religious faith ; and he expresses his belief that in a successful love-relationship he may realise values to which the world is hostile. Love is described as an anchorage in a world of intellectual confusion and frustration.

      The poem Dover Beach is in many respects representative of the mind and art of the poet. Arnold has a wistful soul; sincere and struggling for the anchorage of faith. He was annoyed by the theological disputes which afflicted the Christian churches in mid-century He, therefore, found no shelter in faith. This explains the melancholy note in his poems. In Dover Beach, the elegiac note runs as an undercurrent. The advance and retreat of the waves at the ebb-tide produce a sad undernote. He connects this note of sadness in the retreat of the waves with he sadness in his heart consequent on the retreat of faith. The world before him is full of necked shingles.

      Dover Beach is a love poem. It was written on the occasion of a honeymoon trip to Dover Beach which presents beautiful natural scenery. The poet asks his beloved to see the beautiful sight and hear the sweet sounds of advancing and retreating waves. He finds love as the only shelter and support in the confusing welter of doubts and faiths in the Victorian age.

      The poem Dover Beach is remarkable for the quiet and restrained tone and classical poise. Arnold deliberately exercises restraint on expression and passion. His treatment is always marked by a singular poise and quietness which make the pathos of his poetry more pronounced. The pathos wells out of the stony weight placed on the passion. In spite of his scrupulous regard for objectivity, the personal emotion breaks out because of his intensely introspective naturel. In Dover Beach, there is beautiful objective description of nature - the sea-scape and the landscape are bathed in he melancholy beauty of the ebbtide at night. He beautifully relates his own personal feeling of sadness too the natural background. The poem is, thus, remarkable for the fine integration of the poet's subjective feeling to the objective background. Yet the personal feeling of melancholy strikes a dominant ground. Yet the personal feeling of melancholy strikes a dominant note in the last stanza.

      Arnold is Greek in his insistence that there shall be definite thought which shall be lucidly expressed. Arnold's poetry is characterised by fastidious workmanship which is evident in phrases and verse lines. Dover Beach is considered a perfect poem because of its craftsmanship. Here he does not merely 'think aloud' as he does in much of his verse. Melodic lyric and sharp visual symbols are moulded into a gripping and sorrowful depiction of what he considers to be the modern disease of life.

      The poem Dover Beach is divided into four stanzas and there is nothing superfluous in it. The first stanza describes the advance and retreat of the waves with tremulous rhythm. There is enchanting melody in the lines : "Begin and cease and then again begin with tremulous cadence slow..". The lines recapture the slow movement of the waves. The second stanza takes us back to the Greek dramatist who relates in his plays the sorrowful tale of human life. In the third stanza Dover Beach is connected with the sea of life which retreats to the breath of the night wind. The last stanza gives a dark and spiritual consolation The famous concluding simile of ignorant armies, clashing by night is suggested by the description of the battle of Epipolate by Thucidides. The poet has achieved in this poem a blend of high seriousness and natural magic which, according to Anold constitutes great poetry. Arnold shows his scrupulous regard in the choice of words and expressions: 'glimmering and vast', 'tremulous cadence, turbid ebb and flow', darkling plain'. The poem is a direct statement, but its similes - like the folds of bright girdle furled, 'naked shingles of the world' and the last image of ignorant armies clashing by night are suggestive and appropriate, and at the same time testify to the poet's power in the use of images to suggest the attitude and tone of the poem. He conveys his ideas more by the 'moon-blanched' landscape and the images than by the direct statement.

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