Dover Beach Before we can discuss Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, a brief biography of the poet will help us understand the poem and the mood he is in while writing it. The reader should know that Matthew Arnold married Fanny Lucy Wightman at Dover, despite her father's disapproval. Wightman's father was vocal in his objections to the marriage, insisting in 1850 that the two should end their romance and cancel their wedding plans (Furr). Thus, Arnold penned Dover Beach in 1851, drawing from his own experience as a man who is torn between love and war. Arnold uses shifts in sensory imagery to alter the tone of the poem to present the reader with the challenges he faces during his courtship. Arnold's use of sensory imagery helps the reader to imagine the experiences that invoke sight, hearing, sense of smell and taste, and tactile perceptions. Consider his use of imagery in this pattern of related details, found in the first three lines of the poem: 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!
(1-7) Arnold and his beloved bride-to-be peer from a window in a room overlooking Dover Beach. From their lofty vantage point, the moonlight reveals an ocean that lies calm, a tide that is full, the distant coast of France, and the cliffs of England. Arnold describes a night in which the gleam of the moonlight shimmers across the bay. This is a most tranquil night and he is sharing it with the woman he loves. The imagery he is planted in our minds is of all of beautiful and wonderful scenery.
Even the smell, the Sweet is the night air, presents Arnold's readers with an awareness of the world around them (6). Each line is over flowing with deep thoughts. Arnold is at ease with this peaceful beauty. The poem's sensory imagery changes in Listen!
You hear the grating roar(9). The peaceful tranquility of Arnold's opening lines is shattered by a disturbing noise. At first Arnold and his love are looking outside his window, gazing at the physical beauty of the world. The tone begins to change with the darkness of war. The grating roar of the pebbles (9,10) puts Arnold in mind of human misery (18). The change of tone is shown in the contrast between the actions of the moon which lies fair (2) and that of the pebbles and waves that pound the beach with angry, relentless determination. Arnold illustrates this contrast by stating: 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. (9-14) These lines help us to understand that the sounds of the battle, as it starts, stops, and begins again, presents the imagery of an age-old conflict, one that is disturbing in its persistence and invasive in its action. Arnold's intellectual background and culture leads him to recall the Greek drama, Sophocles, when he compares the ebb and flow of the sea and the flow of human misery (15-18).
He is then reminded of his own time and can hear the human misery that surrounds him and his love. There is no protection when he admits to the naked shingles, of the world (28). The couple has no protection from the elements around them. In stanza two, Arnold draws an analogy between the once full, but now receding tide and what he calls the Sea of Faith (21). During Arnold's time, the Church of England had been torn in two over the creation of humans. Arnold worries about the question of his own creation and would he and his love stand together strong in facing this dilemma. The churches future and its beliefs will be torn in two, or would it just be thrown away.
He suggests that we are left with the rough sea that washes over the beach at Dover. The gleams of light that was once there is now gone. In the last stanza of the poem, we learn that he is speaking to his love directly once again. His tone returns to a sense of calm as he presents the idea that they must comfort and remain faithful to one another because their relationship is all that they have. Although the battle around them may die, and the religious issues may come to an end, their love and faith in each other is all they truly have to hold and trust. Bibliography Works Cited Arnold, Matthew.
Dover Beach. Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. Ed.
Thomas R. ARP. 7th ed. Forth Worth: Hartcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998. 715-716. Furr, Derek. An overview of Dover Beach.
Poetry for Students. Gale, 1997. 30 July 2000. Gale Group. Word Count: 805