Dover Beach

Dover Beach

by Matthew Arnold

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 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.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, 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.

Summary of Dover Beach

  • Popularity of “Dover Beach”: Matthew Arnold, a famous poet, and critic wrote Dover Beach, a famous dramatic monologue. It was first published in 1867. The poem describes a distinct clash between religion and the modern world. It also illustrates how the beauty of the world is corroded with the loss of faith.
  • “Dover Beach” Criticism on the World: The poem presents two things: the reality of the new world and loss of faith. The poet argues that the world is no more beautiful as it used to be. At first, standing on the cliffs of Dover Beach, he records his feelings about the tranquil sea. He also calls his love to enjoy this majesty of nature, glimmering lighthouse, famous white cliffs of Dover and the sound of waves, hitting at the seashore. This enchanting scene reminds him of the Greek dramatics, Sophocles and his tragic plays. He states that in the past people had faith in the past, and the world was a good place. But, now it has become hollow without any joy, happiness, and faith. Also, people are unable to differentiate between reality and illusion. So, faith is slipping away. The poem conveys a message that it is only through love people can find the lost faith.
  • Major themes in “Dover Beach”: Man, the natural world and loss of faith are the major themes in the poem. He laments the loss of faith in the world with resultant cruelty, uncertainty, and violence. Although the world appears as a land of mesmerizing dreams, in reality, humanity is standing on the verge of chaos; perplex, confused and empty from inside. Therefore, he urges his beloved and himself to be true to one another to survive in this land.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Dover Beach”

Literary devices play a pivotal role in shaping a literary piece of work. The writer uses them to bring uniqueness and depth in the simple texts. Mathew Arnold has used some literary devices to bring depth in this poem. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been discussed below.

  • Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ and /o/in “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light”.
  • Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /l/ in “To lie before us like a land of dreams”.
  • Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or verse that does not come to an end at a line break instead moves over the next line. For example,

“And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight.”

  • Allusion: Allusion is a belief and an indirect reference of a person, place, thing or idea of a historical, cultural, political or literary significance. This poem contains allusions as in the second stanza. For example, ‘Sophocles’ refers to the great Greek play writer and in the third stanza “sea of faith” refers to the world of religions.
  • Pathetic Fallacy: It is a figure of speech in which objects are attributed to human emotions. For example, “Listen! you hear the grating roar, Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling” and “eternal note of sadness.” Human beings experience these feelings attributed to pebbles.
  • Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. Similarly, “sea of faith” symbolizes faith in god and Tide leaving the shore” is the symbol of lost faith.
  • Simile: It is a figure of speech used to compare something with something else to make the readers understand what it is. For example, the world is compared to the land of dreams in the below lines.

“To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams.”

  • Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Such as, “The tide is full, the moon lies fair”; “Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling” and “Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land.”

The analysis shows that this poem, though seems a simple description of the natural beauty, has a deceptive pull to spellbound the reader.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Dover Beach”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem each varies in length. Stanza 1 has 14 lines, stanza 2 has 6 lines, stanza 3 has 8 lines and the last stanza has 9 lines.
  • Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter having five iambs per line. The poem follows irregular iambic pentameter such as, “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light.”
  • Rhyme Scheme: There is no specific rhyme scheme in this poem.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used when describing any personal experience of catching a mesmerizing sight of the peaceful sea.

“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.”