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1 The sea is calm to-night. 2 The tide is full, the moon lies fair 3 Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light 4 Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, 5 Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. 6 Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! 7 Only, from the long line of spray 8 Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land, 9 Listen! you hear the grating roar 10 Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, 11 At their return, up the high strand, 12 Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 13 With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 14 The eternal note of sadness in. 15 Sophocles long ago 16 Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought 17 Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow 18 Of human misery; we 19 Find also in the sound a thought, 20 Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 21 The Sea of Faith 22 Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore 23 Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d. 24 But now I only hear 25 Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, 26 Retreating, to the breath 27 Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear 28 And naked shingles of the world. 29 Ah, love, let us be true 30 To one another! for the world, which seems 31 To lie before us like a land of dreams, 32 So various, so beautiful, so new, 33 Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, 34 Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; 35 And we are here as on a darkling plain 36 Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, 37 Where ignorant armies clash by night.
1–6] In these first six lines Arnold presents a beautiful and tranquil scene sea, in a very positive way. He uses words like ‘calm,’ ‘fair,’ ‘stand,’ and ‘sweet’ to establish this mood. 2–3] moon…straits: The water reflects the image of the moon.
anything that surrounds or encircles. Whether an observer at Dover can actually see a light at Calais depends on the height of the lighthouse and the altitude at which the observer sees the light (because of the curvature of the earth). grating (meaning rasping. or scraping) introduces conflict between the sea and the land and.’ 11] the high strand: upper part of a coastline. However. the clause foreshadows the message of later lines—that the light of faith in God and religion. now flickers. waterworn pebbles on the seashore. In addition. The endless motion of the waves described in Lines 12–14 evokes sadness in the speaker. like a swelling tide driven by winds. in which Sophocles says the gods can visit ruin on people from one generation to the next. it may be an exaggeration that that pebbles cause a ‘grating roar. they glimmer. by Sophocles. 8] moon-blanch’d: whitened by the moon. and on the weather conditions. . 16] it=‘the eternal note of sadness’ (Line 14). the poet ‘hears’ a thought that disturbs him as did the one heard by Sophocles. 20] distant northern sea: contrasts with Sophocles’ Ægean—recalls us to the poet’s own time and place. Like the light from France. symbolically. 15] Arnold alludes here to a passage in the ancient Greek play Antigone. 7–8] Lines 7 and 8 mark a transition in the stanza. 9–10] grating…pebbles: Here. 23] girdle: sash. 19] Find…thought: In the sound of the sea. on the brightness of the light. grinding.2 3–4] light…gone: This clause establishes a sense of rhythm in that the light blinks on and off. introduces action and perhaps even contention in the poem. a limestone that easily erodes. cloudy. between long-held religious beliefs and the challenges against them. further developing the theme of a weakening of the light of faith. 17] turbid: muddy. Arnold uses words like ‘grating roar’ and ‘fling’ to achieve a feeling of tension and energy. perhaps what lies just above the tide-marks. 28] shingles: round. 4–5] cliffs…vast: The famous White Cliffs of Dover are composed of chalk.’ which describes what results when the sea meets the land. The fact that they easily erode supports this theme. 9–14] In direct contrast to his peaceful and pleasing description of the seashore. He moves from the visual images of the first lines to sound descriptions as he details a darker side of the scene. loose. ‘Eternal note of sadness’ is echoed again later in the phrase ‘human misery’ in Line 18 and seems to describe the malaise of mankind throughout history rather than the specific problems of the speaker. once strong. The phrase ‘long line of spray. the speaker begins to contemplate the movement of the waves. belt.
the third of eight and the last line of nine lines. The stanzas and lines are of uneven length: this reflects the confusion in the mind of the poet. Point of View The poet/persona uses first-. This opposes the pattern of the iambic rhyme of the first stanza. This line means But now I alone hear.’ but no other lines rhyme in the first stanza.The first two sections each consist of 14 lines that suggest but do not achieve strict sonnet form. the second of six. ‘Dover Beach’ consists of four rhymed stanzas. as recorded by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. second-. For example. dbdc.. The first and third lines rhyme. ‘drear’ and ‘naked’. The line ‘suggests the confusion of mid-Victorian values of all kinds’ (E. Then he shifts to first-person point of view when he includes his beloved and the reader as co-observers. To amplify the negative mood of the last lines Arnold uses words such as ‘melancholy’. The word ‘only’ emphasizes the speaker’s loneliness. with eight lines) of a sonnet. when Athenian warriors—unable to see—killed friend and enemy alike. and third-person point of view in the poem. whereas the last lines sound sad and hopeless. and Line 35 (we). This instance occurs in Line 24: But now I only hear. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza consists of ABACD. The rhyme scheme in the poem appears to be abac. the poem presents the observations of the author/persona in third-person point of view but shifts to second person when he addresses his beloved. occurring in darkness. in the first eight lines of the poem it is abac dbdc. Generally. cynical. dangerous. 35] darkling: obscure. while the rest of the lines contain two to four feet. About half of the lines in the poem are in iambic pentameter. . yet easily overlooked. The first stanza consists of 14 lines. becoming dark. Line 9 (Listen! you). Commentary RHYTHM AND RHYME The underlying. with six lines)—as though the final five lines had been eroded. Multiple lines do rhyme. climactic line instead of a sestet (second part.O.. and was well-known for teaching his pupils about the chaotic night-battle at Epipolae. Line 31 (us). menacing. The first three lines of the stanza create a feeling of hope. materialistic battlefield. and except for a short (three foot) opening line. there is much hatred and pain. and not necessarily that of his co-observers. The same instance occurs in the second stanza’s rhyme scheme of BDCEFCGHG. and Line 29 (let). but there is no guiding light. with the rhyme scheme of abbacddcc. Line 29 (us). 37] Arnold’s father was headmaster at his school. we can find seven lines of iambic pentameter (l. dim. ominous. The rhyme scheme is very irregular. amoral. He also uses first-person point of view to declare that at least one observation is his alone. as in Line 6 (Come).3 33–34] neither…pain: The world has become a selfish. ‘to-night’ and light. lack of a pattern in the rhyme scheme reflects the speaker’s inner debate: it creates an effect of conflict and confusion. In the last stanza.K. Brown and J. but in no set pattern.31-37). as in Line 18 (we). ‘Dover Beach’ is a three stanza poem that contains a different number of lines in each stanza. but closes with a single. Bailey). The words ‘But now’ in line 24 are a caesura (there is a break in the form and content of the poem). the last section emulates the octave (first part.
that men cannot do without it. so beautiful. Paradox and Hyperbole: grating roar of pebbles Metaphor: which the waves draw back. gleams. fair. coast. coast. Frances Lucy Wightman. lamented the dying of the light of faith. the moon lies fair (Stanza 1). gleams. return. nor love. since the poem expresses a universal message. full. which gleams one moment and is gone the next. and 29—is Matthew Arnold’s wife. turbid ebb and flow (Stanza 2) Figures of Speech Alliteration: to-night. tide. which the waves. Consequently. Arnold and his wife visited Dover Beach twice in 1851. Theme Arnold’s central message is this: Challenges to the validity of long-standing theological and moral precepts have shaken the faith of people in God and religion. long line. nor light / Nor certitude. as symbolized by the light he sees in ‘Dover Beach’ on the coast of France.’ At that time Arnold was inspector of schools in England. one may say that she can be any woman listening to the observations of any man. in (Stanza 1) Words Suggesting Rhythm Examples: draw back. light. 9. the poem is said to be in free verse--that is. One is. spray. achieved through the following: Alliteration Examples: to-night. who was deeply religious. bring. although he was open to—and advocated—an overhaul of traditional religious thinking. cliff (Stanza 1) Parallel Structure Example: The tide is full. nor help for pain (Stanza 4) Rhyming Words Examples: to-night. the other. bay. Hath really neither joy. However. that they cannot do with it as it is. stand. Arnold. folds. the pillar of faith supporting society was perceived as crumbling under the weight of scientific postulates. the existence of God and the whole Christian scheme of things was cast in doubt.4 Who Is the Listener? (Line 29) The person addressed in the poem—Lines 6. and fling (comparison of the waves to an intelligent entity that rejects that which it has captured) Metaphor: turbid ebb and flow of human misery (comparison of human misery to the ebb and flow of the sea) . he wrote: ‘At the present moment two things about the Christian religion must surely be clear to anybody with eyes in his head. and cease. such as the evolutionary theory of English physician Erasmus Darwin and French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. the year they were married and the year Arnold was believed to have written ‘Dover Beach. However. Because the meter and rhyme vary from line to line. full. furled. cliff.’ Type of Work ‘Dover Beach’ is a poem with the mournful tone of an elegy and the personal intensity of a dramatic monologue. Assonance: tide. there is cadence in the poem. gone. In God and the Bible. gone. night-air. In Arnold’s world of the mid-1800’s. So various. fair. then begin again (Stanza 1). nor peace. fling. it is unencumbered by the strictures of traditional versification. He remained a believer in God and religion. begin. fair (Lines 1–2). land. tide. lies. so new (Stanza 4). Begin. a position he held until 1886.
• Sophocles was a Greek tragedian (Oedipus complex in Freudian theory comes from there) • The ‘different’ rhythm to the poem(2nd stanza) the poet insists on completing his sentences • The comparison with Sophocles by the Aegean Sea • ‘Come to the window. Now. nor light. nor help for pain (repetition of nor) STRUCTURE This poem is structured in 4 stanzas which have different amount of lines. ‘tranquil’.. The first three lines of this stanza create a feeling of hope. however. New ideas in science and society challenge religion and traditions. The first stanza consists of 14 lines. so new (repetition of so). People place their faith in material things. The last stanza can be seen as a conclusion of the preceding ones. nor love. ‘calm’ etc. stands for . human misery makes people feel lonely. the sea of faith has become a sea of doubt. In the third stanza the sea is called the ‘Sea of faith’ to show that once humanity was more religious. In the second stanza. nor peace. whereas the last lines sound sad and hopeless. so beautiful.5 Metaphor: The Sea of Faith (comparison of faith to water making up an ocean) Simile: The Sea of Faith…lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled (use of like to compare the sea to a girdle) Metaphor: breath of the night-wind (comparison of the wind to a living thing) Simile: the world.’ -Dramatic Monologue • The Contrast present in every stanza • A reference to the French revolution-false dawn with Napoleon winning but then resorting to dictatorship • The beginning to the poem is somewhat pleasant and hence deceptive • The comparison to the armies fighting by night in the fourth stanza. And this sadness is compared to human misery. the second of 6. the sea is described in a very positive way. In this last one it is illustrated the contrast between hope and reality. protecting people from doubt and despair. The first stanza can be divided into 2 parts. This can be seen because the poet uses adjectives such as ‘fair’. the third of 8 and the last one of 9 lines. But. / Nor certitude. it is said that Sophocles heard the sadness of the sea (long ago). which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams (use of like to compare the world to a land of dreams) Anaphora: So various. There was a time when faith in God was strong and comforting. In the first part (line 1 to 6). that harmonious atmosphere changes into sadness. after line 7.
the classical poetic form of the sonnet has devolved into formless chaos. At first. But by the end of the stanza. see that the first stanza is comprised of 14 lines and pivots at \’Only. the sea is used as an image and a metaphor. line 22: ‘bright girdle furl’d’ emphasizes how religious faith was wrapped around and protected people. sweet is the night air!’ A long. successful life lay ahead of him. the ‘Sea of Faith’ and thus the certainty of religion withdraws itself from the human grasp and leaves only darkness behind.1-8). His new bride was near by. Throughout the poem.6 indistinguishability between friend and foe. The final lines of Dover Beach are racked with disillusionment about a ‘world which seems/ To lie before us like a land of dreams. were \’reborn. to underline the harmonious atmosphere of the first six lines. Come to the window. and by the second stanza. The Sea of Faith receding refers to the changing world where religion is losing its importance • ‘Naked Shingles’ refers to the unprotected masses • The repetition of ‘nor’ -stress on negativity. Overlooking the absence of regular iambics. followed by the complementary six of the retreating \’Sea of Faith\’ third stanza. RHETORICAL DEVICES Anaphora in lines 4 and 5 ‘Gleams and glimmering’. . the moon lies fair/ Upon the Straits . . he was hearing the ‘eternal note of sadness’ in the sea and the rolling of the pebbles. the ‘ebb and flow/ Of human misery’ was overwhelming.13)) that evoke a general feeling of sadness.\’) The next stanza--Sophocles\’ projected tragic vision--is eight lines. The superficial calmness and beauty prevailing in the world (represented by the sea) is revealed as empty and hopeless. Something has now broken. aggressive world and began serenely: ‘The sea is calm tonight. Now. it is beautiful to look at in the moonlight (ll. Matthew Arnold’s Development of Setting Notice the form of the poem. the sea is turned into a metaphoric ‘Sea of Faith’ (l. With the final nine lines as ignorant armies clash in the darkness./ The tide is full.’ but . including Sophocles. Simile in the third stanza.21) — a symbol for a time when religion could still be experienced without the doubts brought about by progress and science (Darwinism). so beautiful. 9). so new.\’ Sonnet written all over it--a standard/traditional form coinciding with the mind-dominant (as opposed to spirit-dominant) Renaissance (during which time the attitudes of the ancient Greeks. then it begins to make hostile sounds (‘grating roar’ (l./ So various. Arnold beheld his progressive. ‘tremulous cadence’ (l. In the third stanza.
(197) The thoughts do not appear as obviously structured and organised as in ‘Calais Sands’. Hereafter cited as ‘Thomas. One critic saw the ‘darkling plain’ with which the poem ends as comparable to the ‘naked shingles of the world. nor help for pain. In stanza 3 there is a series of open vowels (‘Its melancholy. nor peace. the last section emulates the octave of a sonnet. but closes with a single. The darkness makes it hard to define both one’s own and somebody else’s position. but also certainty. In the first stanza the rhythm of the poem imitates the ‘movement of the tide’ (l. nor light. A generally falling syntactical rhythm can be detected and continues into stanza 4. while the ‘darkling plain’ of the final line is not apparent in the opening. Comments on Form and Structure ‘Dover Beach’ consists of four stanzas. but rather a free handling of the basic iambic pattern. and David G. which is accentuated by the fact that run-on lines are mixed with end-stopped lines. noting that the sea of the opening stanza does not appear in the final stanza.7 that had ‘neither joy. 1961) 102.’ He pledged constancy to the woman near him. In this last stanza one can find seven lines of iambic pentameter (l. and except for a short (three foot) opening line. then (with its concerns for the sea of faith) it turns to Medieval Europe.31-37). the second 6. In a metaphorical sense of the word. before finally returning to the present. withdrawing roar’ (l. climactic line instead of a sestet — as though the final five lines had been eroded. According to Ruth Pitman. with the rhyme scheme of abbacddcc. How to read a Poem? (London: University of London Press Ltd. that it cannot be seen any longer. the third 8 and the fourth 9. but is gone and leaves nothing but darkness behind. and one can never be certain that the light will ever return.’ The only way to survive what Arnold in another poem called ‘this strange disease of modern life’ was for people to ‘be true to one another./ Nor certitude.9-14).’ Terms of Art The last ‘is’ emphasises that the light is not there.’ Analysis Critics have questioned the unity of the poem. 25). The first stanza has 14 lines. each containing a variable number of verses. nor love. Various solutions to this problem have been proffered. this poem can be seen as ‘a series of incomplete sonnets’ (quoted in Riede 196). not only the light is gone. Devoid of love and light the world is a maze of confusion left by ‘retreating’ faith. As for the metrical scheme. [Roy Thomas. That lovers may be ‘true/To one another’ is a precarious notion: love in the modern city momentarily gives peace. long. there is no apparent rhyme scheme. but nothing else in a post-medieval society reflects or confirms the faithfulness of lovers.’ Beginning in the present it shifts to the classical age of Greece. Riede adds: The first two sections each consist of 14 lines that suggest but do not achieve strict sonnet form. .
etc./ So various. . a crisis in religion.6)) to share with him the serenity of the evening. nor help for pain. These have disappeared. The lyrical self calls his addressee to the window. (‘the vast edges drear/ And naked shingles of the world’ (ll. and fling/ At their return. love. . meaning faithful. where only confused sounds of fighting can be heard. as he accentuates with a series of denials.. . In the third stanza.) Arnold illustrates this by using an image of clothes (‘Kleidervergleich’). As in ‘Calais Sands’. On the contrary.13) and ‘eternal note of sadness’ (l. which seems/ To lie before us like a land of dreams. A contrast is formed to the scenery of the previous stanza. when the lyrical self calls his love to the window (‘Come . Imperialism.. For the beautiful scenery that presents itself to them (‘for the world. Arnold displays an outwardly beautiful nightly seaside scenery. All these are basic human values. Arnold draws a very bleak and nihilistic view of the world he is living in. but it could also be interpreted as the lyrical self addressing humanity. which the waves draw back. this world does not contain any basic human values.nor in stanza 4 underlines a series of denials: ‘. along with the light and religion and left humanity in darkness. 27-28)) The fourth and final stanza begins with a dramatic pledge by the lyrical self..9)). These help to increase the general melancholic feeling of the poem. He asks his love to be ‘true’ (l. !’ (l. 23)). nor love. Arnold then reconnects this idea to the present. he uses a lot of adjectives to enrich the poem’s language. The lyrical self projects his own feelings of melancholy on to the sound of ‘the grating roar /Of pebbles. then to the aural impression (‘Listen!’ (l. Sophocles apparently heard the similar sound at the ‘Aegean’ sea (l. let us be true /To one another!’ (ll. Then he calls her attention to the aural experience. The pleasant scenery turns into a ‘darkling plain’ (l.29). so beautiful.9-11). the Industrial revolution. the world was dressed (‘like the folds of a bright girdle furled’ (l.’ (l.8 A repetition of neither.14). which is a metaphor for a time (probably the Middle Ages) when religion could still be experienced without the doubt that the modern (Victorian) age brought about through Darwinism. nor light/ Nor certitude. to him.21). 35). 2930)). With these lines.35) could just refer to the lyrical self and his love. neither joy. In the first stanza. 20)). ‘We’ (l. to share the visual beauty of the scene. 33-34) [emphasis mine].14) in him. this raises the question of what remains at all. up the high strand’ (ll.17-18). Exclamations are used at various points of the poem with quite opposite effects. If none of these do truly exist. Although there is a distance in time and space (‘Aegean’ — ‘northern sea’ (L. such as ‘tremulous cadence’ (l. . the general feeling prevails. First she is asked to pay attention to the visual. nor peace. the world lies there stripped naked and bleak. so new’ (ll. When religion was still intact.30-32)) is really not what it seems to be. Now that this faith is gone. which is somehow less beautiful. The second stanza introduces the Greek author Sophocles’ idea of ‘the turbid ebb and flow of human misery’ (ll. This sound causes an emotion of ‘sadness’ (l. (‘Ah. Theme and Subject The first stanza opens with the description of a nightly scene at the seaside. 16) and thus developed his ideas. the sea is turned into the ‘Sea of Faith’ (l.
The grating and roaring pebbles produce sound while the calm sea and glimmering French coast produce a visual effect. and fifth stanzas alternate euphonous sounds (stanza three and the first three lines of stanza four) and cacaphonous sounds (the last five lines of stanza four and all stanza five). ‘naked shingles of the world. whereas the previous stanza displayed visual qualities. and the speaker cannot escape his misery. The smooth sounds of l in line 7.9 The speaker’s problem also appears in the sounds of the words throughout the poem.’ and ‘s’ sounds in ‘tremulous cadence slow’ actually slow the tempo down. fourth.’ point out the instances of illusion where the conflict of the illusion versus reality does not exist. ‘long line. Likewise.’ indicate the places where reality not only exists. Louis Untermeyer: ‘Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ is another monologue which is held together tightly by a single unifying image. The consonant quality of the g and the r in ‘grating roar’ (line 9) takes on an auditory quality. In line 13. the rough sounds in line 28.’ ‘c.’ .’ and the f in line 23. the third. ‘folds’ and ‘furled. In contrast. [It is] a dissertation on the seeming beauty but actual meaninglessness of the world…a world in which the only faith is the faith of those who cling to each other. but where illusion cannot exist. after stanza two. the hard ‘t.
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