Essay, Research Paper
A man stands on the cliffs of Dover, looking out at the ocean. He is self-absorbed and experiencing feelings of dejection. This man goes on for stanzas uttering thoughts to himself, at least that is what one could surmise from the indifferent tone. Then, when the reader is convinced that the man is simply philosophizing out loud to himself, the man addresses for the first time another party. That party is a woman, one that he refers to as “love.” Funny, she is almost not visible for the entire poem and then suddenly she is. His aloofness to her presence ends the poem in such a way that the reader is left to wonder and inquire about the whole picture the remainder of the story. The poem “The Dover Bitch: A Criticism of Life,” written by Anthony Hecht in 1968, undermines and debases the introspection and romanticism of Matthew Arnold’s, “Dover Beach,” written about a century earlier in 1867.
Introspection is the reflective examination of one’s thought process and sensory experience. From the very first line of “The Dover Bitch,” the introspection of the Matthew Arnold s poem is completely deconstructed. The parody is a casual conversation that one might hear in a bar. The speaker could easily be the local bartender in any town. He indulges a listener and begins to tell a tale about a woman whose only thought about her time on the cliffs of Dover with Matthew was how nice his whiskers would have felt on her neck. In the original poem the girl is there with Matthew but barely mentioned because he is too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice her. In the parody, however, the woman is the main subject of the poem but ironically enough she is not there. This is the crux of how the original s introspection is debased. There is not even a hint of self-reflection in the parody; it is simply a man talking about a woman he knows and turning her into some sort of flighty creature who cares nothing about deep thoughts.
Looking back on “Dover Beach,” one could ponder if Matthew Arnold was a novice philosopher, simply because that is what philosophers do best: introspect. Each line in “Dover Beach” is overflowing with “deep thoughts.” One might ask if Matthew Arnold was truly being deep or just shallow; however, if he was being shallow, then there is little purpose to the shallowness of the parody. Although every line portrays deep thought, lines 32-36 read as especially introspective.
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…
The quote explains how important it is that he, Matthew, and the mysterious woman be true to one another. This is important, for the world is a cold place, vacant of all that is good. Even the parody’s word choices display Hecht’s thought that Matthew’s words lack the merit to be reiterated. For instance, lines 4-6 are so banal and extremely mocking that the parody takes Matthew s poem and turns it into thoughtless and shallow chatter that isn’t even worth repeating in full.
And he said to her, “Try to be true to me,
And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.”
When has there ever been a serious poem that used the word “etc.?” It just seems misplaced and out of sorts in a poem. People simply do not normally use a word like that in writing, perhaps because it is so impersonal when usually poems are written with the intention of being very personal. Or perhaps it is just because a word like that doesn’t really say much, and most poetic verses have each word strategically placed to the point that even words like “is” have a meaning. The fact that Hecht uses “etc.” more than once further reinforces the shallowness and inconsideration that makes up Matthew Arnold.
Another subtlety about the way this satire is written is how none of the lines are actually thoughts. In the original poem, each line starts with a capital letter and ends in a particular place. However in the parody, although each line begins with a capital letter, there seems to be no real meaning to the lines, because they just end in any place. This whole lack of meaning contributes greatly to the way the poem is breaking down the walls and precipitous cliffs of “Dover Beach.”
Besides demolishing the walls of the original, “The Dover Bitch” also has a way of trivializing and cheapening every bit of romanticism that was embedded in the original. “Dover Beach” takes place on the cliffs of Dover overlooking the sea below. It is truly an epitome of romanticism. Then there is the contrasting parody, totally impersonal and gossipy. A bar certainly is not the first or the last picture a person would imagine when thinking about being romantic. True, in the original Matthew didn’t address the girl until the end, but when he did, he responded with overwhelming emotion. These lines 29-31 also correspond to those cited earlier from the parody.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,…
“Ah love,” that is a phrase that cannot be found anywhere throughout the text of the parody. The word love is so strongly related with romanticism that leaving it out was the first step that Mr. Hecht took in order to mock Matthew Arnold’s romantic style. The girl is of course the vehicle through which Matthew Arnold is attacked. When reading “Dover Beach” a reader would not on their own come up with the strange notion that the girl doesn’t even care about what Matthew is saying, in fact by the way he addresses her one could surmise that he was explaining his world to her while she listened intently. However, with the help of Mr. Hecht the girl loses her innocence and metamorphoses into a shallow, self-centered floozy. There certainly is nothing comforting or romantic about a bartender speaking about a girl who once went out with Matthew Arnold and whom he had relations with. That surely couldn’t have been the standard conception of a young lady in the time of “Dover Beach” and although it was written much later it sure could not have been a popular thought when Mr. Hecht wrote “The Dover Bitch;” even today it is a very disturbing picture to think a woman could be motivated in a purely sexual manner, as this woman is referred to as being.
After Hecht points out in the parody how the original ignores the girl, one cannot help but go back to the original and feel pity for her. However, after rereading the original and going back to the parody, the pity completely fades and turns into pure disgust. Why? Because in society it is perfectly acceptable for a man to be thinking of his own needs but when the tides change and a women is cut and pasted into the man s position it is no longer within that which is the realm of acceptance. Considering both the introspection and romanticism of “Dover Beach,” it is fascinating to think that Mr. Hecht needed only to twist the word tones, alter the gender roles, and change the setting to completely deconstruct everything that Matthew Arnold had tried to say. Similarly with many parodies it is amazing how detrimental words can be in one context and how arbitrary they can be in another.