Dover Beach Essay, Research Paper
How can life be so wonderful, but at times seem so unbearable? This is a question that Matthew Arnold may have asked himself, while writing “Dover Beach.” The poem, one of Arnolds best works, is about a beach that is truly beautiful, but holds much deeper meaning than what meets the eye. Matthew Arnold presents a very real theme of love and splendor in his poem. He creates a scene of beauty among the sea and shores, mixed with night and moonlight(Harrison). Along with the beauty he also presents us with underlying misery, which is easily over looked and disregarded. Arnold writes really of love and loss and relates it with human misery. “Dover Beach” is the poignant expression of the desperate need for love which men feel in this world (Miller).
As the narrator looks out his window, he sees a beautiful world of nature: the sea and the cliffs under the glow of the moon. Describing this scene to his lover, he invites her to “come to the window” so that she might see it too. 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(Ball). 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. However, the speaker wishes his lover to see more than just what is on the surface. Rather, he wants the
speaker to see the beach as an ironic image that is a representation of the world that the he sees (Dickey 235). During the first part of the poem Arnold states, “The Sea is calm tonight” and in line 7, “Only, from the long line of spray”. In this way, Arnold is setting the mood or scene so the reader can understand the point he is trying to portray. In lines 1-6 he is talking about a very peaceful night on the ever so calm sea, with the moonlight shining so intensely on the land. Then he states how the moonlight “gleams and is gone” because the “cliffs of England” are standing at their highest peaks, and are blocking the light of the moon. Next, the waves come roaring into the picture, as they “draw back and fling the pebbles” onto the shore and back out to sea again(Spender 246).
Arnold may not be writing a scene of poetic fiction; it seems rather a reflection of the changes he sees in his world due to a rationalism that opposes traditional religious beliefs (Mermin 83). Arnold’s intellectual background and culture leads him to recall the Greek drama, “Sophocles” when he compares the “Aegean’s turbid ebb and flow” of the sea, to the flow of human misery. As the speaker begins to contemplate the scene and listens to the “pebbles grating with the waves,” and an “eternal note of sadness” emerges (Riede 239). The world changes constantly just like the pebbles that the waves fling continuously. Nature may change and receive no bad effects, but “human misery” endures. He is then reminded of his own time and can hear the human misery that surrounds him and his love. The sea is starting to become rougher and agitated. Also the mention of “human misery” implies that life begins and ends, but it can still be full of happiness, and unfortunately, at the same time, sadness( Allot). The narrator feels like many other romantics feel: while living in a modern world, they long for the great ages of the past. Like Arnold, the speaker feels isolated from the world around him. It seems as if everything great in the past is gone, and the great ages of the future have not yet to come(Rowse).
As Arnold shifts to the traditions of religion, he ironically suggests that those who recognize the persistent suffering of humanity must also acknowledge the decline of traditional religious faith. As he contemplates Dover Beach, Arnold hears the “melancholy, long withdrawing roar” of the “Sea of Faith.” In stanza two, Arnold draws an analogy between the once full, but now receding tide and what he calls the “Sea of Faith(Jump).” “The Sea of Faith was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore.” The key word in that stanza is once, because it implies that the narrator used to look at the sea in a different way than he does now. Throughout the whole poem, Arnold uses a metaphor to describe his views and opinions. It seems as though Arnold is questioning his own faith. The whole poem is based on a metaphor – Sea to Faith. When the sea retreats, so does faith, and leaves us with nothing(Miller).
Religion provides no relief for his sadness, nor does social or political action(Riede). The only hope left seems to be in personal love. Thus, his speaker begs his lover to “let us be true to one another!” We learn that the narrator is speaking directly to his lover. His tone returns to a sense of calm as he presents the idea that they must comfort and remain faithful to the idea that they must remain faithful to one another because their relationship is all that they have. In these last nine lines, the land, which he thought was so beautiful and new, is actually nothing – “neither joy, nor love, nor light”. “We are here though as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash at night”. In reality, Arnold is expressing that nothing is certain, because where there is light there is dark and where there is happiness there is sadness(Riede).