Dover Beach Poem Analysis Theme Questions Answers

The poem "Dover Beach", published in "New Poems" in 1867, is one of the most famous poems of Matthew Arnold. The theme of the poem "Dover Beach" contrasts the beauty of the moonlit seashore to the uncertainty of life employing one of Arnold's favoured metaphors between life and the sea. This article will explain the Summary Analysis Theme Questions Answers Dover Beach. 

Dover Beach Poem Summary Analysis Theme Questions Answers

The poem Dover Beach opens as the speaker, commonly assumed to be a man, stands at a window describing the beauty of the seashore to his companion. However, the seascape begins to remind him of his uncertain place in the universe. He mourns the loss of faith in God, which provided security and meaning to people in the past, and compares the passing of faith to the ebb of the tide. The conclusion of the poem provides a solution for the speaker's maladies.

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold Poem Text

The sea is calm tonight.
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-blanched land,
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves drew back, and fling,
At their return, up the high stand,
Begin, and cause, 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 furled.
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.

Dover Beach Summary:

Lines 1 - 6:
Arnold begins the poem with a conventional description of the seashore in the moonlight. The speaker is standing at a window overlooking a stretch of beach in the south of England, near Dover. From there he can see across the English Channel to the French coast just 20 miles away. The moon is full and illuminates the English cliffs standing at the edge of the sea. Arnold writes, "the tide is full", which seems to imply that the tide is high. The speaker describes this scene to someone else in the room and in the line 6 calls to his companion to join him at the window. In these first six lines, Arnold presents a beautiful and tranquil scene. He uses words like "calm", "fair", "stand" and "sweet" to establish this mood.

Lines 7 - 8:
Lines 7 and 8 mark a transition in the stanza. The phrase "long line of spray", which describes what results when the sea meets the land, introduces action and perhaps even contention in the poem.

Lines 9 - 14:
In direct contrast to his peaceful and pleasing description of the seashore, the speaker begins to contemplate the movement of the waves. Arnold uses words like " grating roar" and "fling" to achieve a feeling of tension and energy. He moves from the visual images of the first lines to sound descriptions as he details a darker side of the scene. He describes the way the waves pick up pebbles as they move across the shoreline and deposit them again as the tide turns. The endless motion of the waves described in Lines 12 - 14 evokes sadness in the speaker. "Eternal note of sadness" is echoed again later in the phrase "human misery" in Line 18 and seems to describe the malaise of mankind throughout history rather than the specific problems of the speaker. 

Lines 15 - 18:
In the opening lines of the second stanza, the speaker considers the Greek tragedy writer Sophocles and wonders if long ago, in ancient Greece, this writer may have sat beside the Aegean Sea and also been reminded of the endless suffering of man. Again, Arnold likens sadness to the constant motion of the sea: "the turbid ebb and flow / of human misery."

Lines 19 - 20:
Lines 19 - 20 provide a transition from the speaker's speculation about Sophocles to the main point of the stanza. Though observing a different sea, the speaker, like Sophocles observing the Aegean, finds a larger message in the motion of the sea. Again, Arnold speaks of the sound of the sea, rather than the visual images of the water. 

Lines 21 - 28:
In these lines the speaker expresses the idea that watching the sea has elicited. The "Sea of Faith" is a metaphor for the faith in God that comforted humankind in earlier periods. Like the ocean at high tide, which sounds the land, faith, the poem implies, used to permeate people's lives. The context of the poem suggests that faith provided meaning and comfort in past ages. However, the "Sea of Faith" has receded like the ebb of the waves. Here Arnold employs such words as "melancholy", "withdrawing roar", " retreating", "dear", and "naked" to convey a sense of loss and despair, and he uses images of the sea, which he did not employ in the description of the shoreline that opens the poem. The sea is no longer calm, the night air sweet, and the shoreline glimmering in the moonlight. Now the waves roar and the wind blows down the dark and naked shoreline. 

Lines 29 - 30:
In the opening lines of the third stanza, the speaker addresses his companion directly. He beseeches her that they must comfort each other, be faithful to one another. Only the loyalty and comfort of personal relationships can fill the void produced by the disappearing faith in God. 

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Themes of the poem Dover Beach:

◇ Nature and Its Meaning:

Dover Beach illustrates fully Arnold's characteristic attitude to nature. Arnold loves nature in her quieter and more subdued moods; he preferred her silences to her many voices, moonlight to sunlight, the sea retreating from the the 'moon-blanched land' with 'its melancholy long withdrawing roar' to the sea in tumult and storm. The sea was, for him, the one element in which he discovered the deepest reflection of his own melancholy and sense of isolation. The poem opens with the description of the calm, quiet sea and the waves receding from 'the moon-blanched land' with melancholy, musical sound. The calm, quiet moonlit night and the sea retreating with 'its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar' provide a fitting background for Arnold's melancholy reflection on the painful riddles of human life. 

◇ Faith in Religion:

Dover Beach is a typical expression of melancholy which is the predominant note of Arnold's poetry. In it Arnold bemoans the loss of faith in religion. His heart writhes in pain to think that faith, which once encircled the world like the sea, has now become a thing of the past, that the world has now slipped into the grip of doubt, dispute, distraction and fear. The last eight lines of the poem give a fine poetic expression to Arnold's melancholy which borders on stark pessimism. He cries that this world which appears to be a dreamland has "really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace nor help for pain." In the light of this, it may seem paradoxical that the speaker's one bit of consolation is that lovers might remain "true to one another". It was natural, however, for the Victorians to conclude that a cosmic order lacking any hands-on divinity required humans to look after one another. Evolution described a world in which not only species but also men struggled against one another in their competition for resources: a world in which "ignorant armies clash by night".

Critical Analysis of the poem Dover Beach:

"Dover Beach" is often referred to as the first modern poem. The poem deserves this distinction not because of its universal free verse style but rather on the basis of its subject matter. Many critics agree that Arnold was also successful in customizing the structure and elements of his poem to achieve its somber mood. In the poem, "Dover Beach", Arnold pours his full heart "in profuse strains of unpremeditated art". But the meditative element comes in towards the end to check his lyrical rapure. 
Dover Beach is a typical expression of Arnold's melancholy attitude to life. In it Arnold regrets to think that faith, which once encircled the world like the sea, has now become a thing of the past. The world has now entered into the grip of doubt, dispute, distraction and fear. Standing on the Dover Beach, the poet observes the calm and quite sea bathed in the moonlight. The light is seen to shine faintly on the French coast and to disappear soon. As the waves recede, they cast pebbles on the shore. 
The poet then addresses his lady-love and says that the world has stepped into a world devoid of joy, love, hope, peace. 
The last eight lines of the poem strikes the note of Arnold's pessimistic attitude. Arnold paints a quieter and more subdued moods of nature. He prefers her silences to her many voices, moonlight to sunlight, the sea retreating from the 'moon-blanched land' with 'its melancholy long withdrawing roar'. As David Daiches says, "The opening of Dover Beach is perhaps the finest expression of the symbolic scene of night quiet which provided the setting and the emotional background of so much Arnold's elegiac meditation."
Thus, as "Dover Beach" opens, we find Arnold at a moment of deep uncertainty, in a period of transition between a former life with fading ambitions and a new life with new responsibilities. His situation is reminiscent of Wordsworth's in "Tintern Abbey". His mind and sentiment interact with the scene before him. He hears an 'eternal note of sadness' in the retreating waves of the sea. Thus, "Dover Beach" reinterprets "Tintern Abbey". The desperate undertones of Wordsworth's final stanza are manifest in Arnold's lyric. Whereas Wordsworth's anxieties find some solace in " Tintern Abbey ", Arnold's melancholy only intensifies as the poem reaches its conclusion. 

Style of the poem Dover Beach:

As regards the style of the poem, "Dover Beach", the slow majestic movement of the verse befits the poet's meditation. Matthew Arnold is one of the first poets to experiment with free verse and "Dover Beach" is written in this form. Free verse is a form of poetry in which meter is not used to structure the verse. Instead, cadence, syntax, and images play an important role. There are no set number of syllables per line nor a regular rhythmic pattern. 
A poem written in free verse may have an irregular rhyming structure, as "Dover Beach" does, or may not rhyme at all. Arnold uses the irregular structure to emphasize words and meaning and to set a tone. The first two stanzas of "Dover Beach" read more slowly because of the phrasing and sound of the words as Arnold builds the tempo of the poem. His third stanza reads more quickly and thus makes his conclusion more powerful. 

Form and Structure of the poem Dover Beach:

The poem Dover Beach consists of four stanzas, each containing a variable number of verses. The first stanza has 14 lines, the second 6, the third 8 and the fourth 9. As for the metrical scheme, there is no apparent rhyme scheme, but rather a free handling of the basic iambic pattern. In stanza 3, there is a series of open vowels. A generally falling 
syntactical rhythm can be detected and continues into stanza 4. In this last stanza one can find seven seven lines of iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme of abbacddcc. 

Questions Answers from the poem Dover Beach:

1. What is Arnold's view on life as depicted in Dover Beach?
Ans: Dover Beach is a memorable expression of Arnold's melancholy view of life. The poet is standing near the Dover Beach and seeing the sea-waves recede to the deep sea with a long, melancholy roar, leaving bare pebbles on the shore. This sight of the recession of the waves reminds the poet of the withdrawal of religious faith from the world. The poet then addresses his lady-love and says that the world which appears to be a dreamland of beauty and romance has really no joy, love, hope, peace, certainly or relief from pain. He compares the world to a battlefield. The whole battlefield is full of the confused noise of men and clatter of arms. It is dark and the fighting armies can't see each other; nor do they know what they are fighting for. Similar is the case with men in this world. They are in the dark about the purpose of their life. The world is full of din and bustle and knows no tranquility. 

2. What is the melancholy note described in the poem, "Dover Beach"?
Ans: Despair is the dominant note in Arnold's poetry. The theme of his poetry is the estrangement of man from God, from Nature, from other men and above all fro his own true self. The last eight lines of the poem, "Dover Beach" give a fine poetic expression to Arnold's melancholy. The poem embodies the universal tragic experience of mankind. Man's life on earth is a long vale of tears. Happiness or peace is a thing to dream of, not to find. They remain ever ignorant of the true purpose of their life. The pessimism in the poem is hardly to be paralleled in literature. It surpasses even that of Hardy. 

3. What is Arnold's view about the faith on religion as revealed in the poem, Dover Beach?
Ans: The poem, Dover Beach is a typical expression of over the loss of men's faith in religion. His heart fears to think that faith which once filled the mind of men, has now become a thing of the past. His despair knows no bounds when he finds that the society has fallen a prey to doubt, disbelief and fear with the disappearance of faith. But Arnold has conveyed this sad experience with remarkable restraint. There is no outburst of passion of emotion. 

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