Analysis on the Poem 'Dover Beach' by Matthew Arnold

1669 Words Mar 11th, 2011 7 Pages
The Poem

“Dover Beach” is a dramatic monologue of thirty-seven lines, divided into four unequal sections or “paragraphs” of fourteen, six, eight, and nine lines. In the title, “Beach” is more significant than “Dover,” for it points at the controlling image of the poem.

On a pleasant evening, the poet and his love are apparently in a room with a window affording a view of the straits of Dover on the southeast coast of England, perhaps in an inn. The poet looks out toward the French coast, some twenty-six miles away, and is attracted by the calm and serenity of the scene: the quiet sea, the moon, the blinking French lighthouse, the glimmering reflections of the famous white cliffs of Dover. He calls his love to the window to enjoy the
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It is only in the fourteenth line, with the mention of “an eternal note of sadness,” that there is any indication that the reader will be exposed to anything more than a simple description, that in view of what follows one shall have to reorient oneself to the significance of the initial description.

The second dominant image in the poem is in lines 25 through 28, expressing the emotional impact of the loss of faith. The individual words add up—melancholy, withdrawing, retreating, vast, drear, naked—re-creating the melancholy sound of the sea withdrawing, leaving behind only a barren and rocky shore, dreary and empty. These images, emphasizing the condition after faith has left, present a void, an emptiness, almost creating a shudder in the reader; it is perhaps a more horrifying image than even the battlefield image with which the poem closes.

The last important extended image closes the poem; it is a very common practice for Arnold to supply such closing, summarizing images in an attempt to say metaphorically what he perhaps cannot express directly. (Such closings are to be clearly seen in “The Scholar-Gipsy,” “Sohrab and Rustum,” “Tristram and Iseult,” “Rugby Chapel,” and others.) The calm of the opening lines is deceptive, a dream. Underneath or behind is the reality of life—a confused struggle, no light, nothing to distinguish good from evil,
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