Synopsis of Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

About the Poet Matthew Arnold

Mathew Arnold (1822-88), was an English poet, scholar and a noted social critic. He is considered a 'sage writer', a writer who chastises and instructs the reader on contemporary social issues. His poems focus mostly on nature, modern society and moral instruction. His poetry is also described as the poetry of conflict since he often voices his own dilemmas as well as the contradictions of his times. Arnold has generally a witty and ironic style but it varies in the poem like 'Dover Beach' that is more melancholy.

Theme of the Poem Dover Beach

Mathew Arnold's "Dover Beach" is a poem set near Dover, along the southeast coast of England is a dramatic monologue. It is also the setting of the poem. The poem is about his struggle with life, love, and faith in religion. The beach itself is a representation of how humans treat and interact with nature. The poet writes with the sadness of the growing impersonality of the industrial age, and of the loss of meaning, faith, and man's connection with nature.

Summary of the Poem Dover Beach

Arnold's "Dover Beach" laments the transition from an age of certainty into an era of the erosion of traditions and loss of faith - Modernism. The poet writes about the effect science has had on religion. "Misery", "sadness" and "melancholy" reign most of the poem. The overall theme of "Dover Beach" is that due to changes in the world, the world is losing their faith in God and the only thing that can fill the void that faith once filled is loyalty, comfort, and ultimately love. Another theme is the conflict between religion and science.

The poem begins with a description of the seaside at night. In the first six lines, Arnold presents the setting, a beach near Dover, England. He describes the beach and creates a tranquil scene with words like "calm," "fair," and "sweet". The next two lines are a transition in the stanza noted by the words "long line of spray," and "grating roar" which introduces the symbolism between the waves and faith. The sound of the waves reminds the speaker of an ancient Greek dramatist, Sophocles who too long ago listened to the sound of the Aegean sea. In the next few lines, Arnold focuses on the waves and their movement. He describes the hopelessness of humanity through time that as for human history, there has been a gradual and steady loss of faith, religion and the meaning of life resulting from the industrialization and advancement in science and technology.

Critical Analysis of Dover Beach

In 1867 Arnold wrote his most famous poem 'Dover Beach'. Arnold begins the poem by creating a setting of solitude, serenity and self-awareness. Arnold's Dover beach is considered an elegy lamenting the world's loss of religious faith, during a time of progress in science and industry and also a dramatic monologue as the poet addresses to a silent audience.

The poem is divided into four stanzas with a various number of verses. The poem is written in free verse with no particular meter or rhyme scheme although some of the words do rhyme. The tone of the poem is melancholic and his lament is expressed in phrases such as "tremulous cadence", "eternal note of sadness", and "turbid ebb and flow of human misery" and "withdrawing roar".

The poet uses the first second and third-person point of view in the poem. Generally, the poem presents the observation of the author in the third person point of view but shifts to the second person when he addresses his beloved inline 6 (come), line 9 (Listen! you) and line 29 (let). Then he shifts to the first person point of view when he includes his beloved and the reader as co observers as in line 18 (we), line 29 (us), line 31(us) and line 35 (we).

Arnold begins the poem by using visual imagery about the sea and shifts to sound imagery. He creates a tranquil and calm scene in the first stanza of the poem with words like, "calm" and "fair". The phrase "long line of spray", creates a transition to the poem introducing a light feeling of tension and anger. Phrases like 'grating roar" and "fling" complete the transition period and the poem becomes filled with tension and melancholy. The melancholy is expressed through phrases like the "eternal note of sadness", "human misery" and the imagery of the endless motion of the waves. Arnold employs such words as "melancholy", "withdrawing roar", "retreating", "drear" and "naked" to express a sense of loss and despair.

Rhetorical Devices used in the Poem Dover Beach

Alliteration: to-night, tide: full, fair; gleams, gone; coast, cliff: long line: which the waves: folds, furled.

Metaphors: which the waves drawback, and fling (losing faith in God); turbid ebb and flow of human misery (comparison of human misery to the flow of the sea); The Sea of Faith (faith in God)

Simile: The world, which seems/To lie before us like a land of dreams (compare the world to a land of dreams).

gleams - shining brightly, fluoresce:
glimmer - glow;
tranquil - calm, serene;
grating - unpleasant sound:
pebbles - small rounded stones:
fling - throw forcefully;
cease - stop:
tremulous - shaky and quivering (usually from fear or lack of strength);
cadence - rhythm:
eternal - never-ending:
furled - wrapped or rolled up;
melancholy - gloomy;
retreat - withdraw or act of moving back:
shingles - small pebbles lying along the shore;
certitude - certainty.
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