Critical appreciation of the poem Dover Beach
Question: Write a critical appreciation of the poem “Dover Beach”.
Or, discuss the theme of the poem “Dover Beach”
“Dover Beach” is a poem with mournful tone of an elegy. Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) visited Dover beach with his wife for honeymoon immediately after his marriage. It is a dramatic monologue.
Mono means single
Logue means speaker
From a deeper level, it is an elegy for the loss of religious faith. People had lost their religious belief because of the development of science and commerce and they were morally bankrupted.
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Critical summary of the poem
At the very outset of the poem, Arnold represents the beautiful scenery of Dover beach. He was enjoying the peaceful night from the window. The sea is calm, the moon is fair and the tide is full. His heart was busy for collecting and observing the very natural beauty. Suddenly he noticed that the waves of the sea were withdrawing the pebbles. The pebbles were being forced to move which was felt by the poet as domination. Now, the poet can listen to the grating roar/noise of the pebbles that brings “the eternal notes of sadness”.
The waves are compared with the realistic world. It creates violence and causes, a sense of insecurity. The pebbles are compared with human beings forced to move from the religious faith and morality for the materialistic world.
In the 2nd stanza, Arnold mentions Sophocles (497-406 B.C). Sophocles was a great tragedian of ancient Greece. His tragedies bear the sadness of human beings. Arnold says that Sophocles heard the same sounds in the Aegean Sea of his time. Arnold says about him reflecting his great tragedies. As a tragedian, Sophocles showed the helplessness and tragic fall of human beings. He includes:
“The turbid ebb and flow of human misery”
Arnold refers to the name of Sophocles as a touchstone that provides a sense of security in this insecure world.
In the third stanza, Arnold exposes the reason or cause of sadness. For scientific discovery and commercial expansion, people engaged themselves only to earn money, wealth, and property. They had no religious faith. They are devoid of morality. The sea here is a metaphor of religious faith. Once, religion offers security. People lead a secure, enjoyable, calm, and quiet life holding morality and religious belief. But now, the waves of the sea are withdrawing the pebbles forcefully.
People have no security of religion; religious security was in past. Now, people are suffering from a moral and spiritual crisis for the loss of religious belief. In the final stanza, Arnold finds a source of hope in this insecure world that is personal love. In this cruel society, only personal love can offer hope and a sense of security. He rightly claims,
“Ah love, let us be true
To one another.”
The world is loveless and uncertain. Arnold told his beloved to be true because there is a scope of falseness in love also. At the end of the final stanza, Arnold uses the image of the Military that people were fighting at night against one another.
Figure of speech
The poem “Dover Beach” is replete with the use of figures of speech such as allusion, personification, simile, metaphor, images, and symbols.
“Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery;”
The above lines are the instance of allusion especially but there is a pack of symbolic significance.
The symbols used in the poem are the sea which signifies loss of religious faith and spirituality, naked Pebbles are the symbol of the weakness of morality of human beings and personal love symbolizes the light of hope.
Stanza Pattern: The poem is written in irregular stanza patterns but they are musical. There is no fixed stanza pattern like pentameter or hexameter.
Tone: Dover beach is based on an elegiac tone or pessimistic tone. The sadness is in a materialistic world.
Conclusion: This poem alone can make Arnold eternal in the history of English literature and it has popularized and acclaimed Arnold to the critics and the readers.