Dover Beach Questions and Answers
1. Attempt a critical estimate of trem Dover Beach. .
Ans. Dover Beach has its king similarities with Arnold’s other poems-Stanzas oant the Grande Chartreuse and The Buried Life. The gisboat decline of faith and Arnold’s own resultant bewilderntent and melancholy constitute the theme of the former. In The Buried Life, Arnold expresses the belief that in a successful love-relationship he may discover certain values which are not readily to be found in ‘modern life’. Both of these ideas recur in Dover Beach. Dover Beach has also its thematic semblance with Eliot’s Preludes. In Preludes the poet looks at the modern life but finds it to his dismay not only materialistic and spiritually barren but also finds it decayed and empty. The scene around him evokes no zest. However, it reminds him of something infinitely gentle and infinitely suffering. But he is finally appalled by life’s emptiness. Dover Beach centres on the theme that there was a time when men were firm believers in God. But now they have become materialistic, ungodly and sceptical. They do not know what they fight for, what they strive after.
The poem opens with the description of a symbolic landscapeThe landscape is composed of details which suggest the serenitybalance, and stability which Arnold desired for himself. The setting evoked with considerable vividness: The sea is clam to-night, 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.
sweet is the night air! …….. Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d 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.
The image, observes J. D. Jump, which dominates this first paragraph of Dover Beach forms part of the full view’ described .by Mr. W. H. Auden in his poem beginning, ‘Look, stranger, on this island now.’ Like Arnold, Mr. Auden appears in his poetry as a tortured intellectual concerned with working out his own salvation. Mr. Auden is a highly subjective poet; and like Arnold he tends to relate his mental states to symbolic landscape. But, whereas Arnold’s more successful landscapes seem to be apprehended by direct sensory experience, Mr. Auden’s consist largely of items culled from atlases, news reels, the daily press, and political, psychological, and other reading. In short, his characteristic landscapes appear to be known to the intelligence rather than to the senses. But Mr. Auden’s early favourite landscape of industrial decay is sometimes rendered in potently sensuous terms, but this is unusual. In the poem beginning, ‘Look, Stranger, on this island now,’ Mr. Auden, further observes J. D. Jump, seems to have made the unusual effort to impost the landscape he is describing upon the very senses of his readers. The second stanza of the said poem is all that concerns us now:
Here at the small field’s ending pause When the chalk walk falls to the foam and its tall ledges Oppose the pluck And knock of the tide, And the shingle scrambles after the sucking-surf And the gull lodges A moment on its sheer side.
The poem is remarkable for its imageries. The faith in religion is compared to a sea. The sea of religious faith was once at full tide:
The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furld’.
The image of the battle-field becomes the poet’s most memorable poetic comment on the modern world. Nothing that he says of this strange disease of modern life’ in The Scholar Gipsy approaches it in urgency and inherent power:
And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.
The poem has handed to us some memorable phrases like ‘moon blanch’d land, grating roar, tremulous cadence slow, turbid ebb and glow, darkling plain, etc. All these are apt enough to convey the sense to the readers. Sometimes a blending of vowels and consonants creates a romance of orchestral harmonies in the poem.
Dover Beach strikes a modern note. It represents the main movement of mind of the last quarter of a century’, ‘the vision of the tragic and alienated condition of man. In this sense Arnold may be called a modern poet’.
2 . “Poetry is at bottom a criticism of life”. Discuss it in the light of “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.
Or, Discuss Arnold’s philosophy of life as shown in “Dover Beach”.
Or, What attitude to life is revealed in the poem “Dover Beach”.
Ans. The poem “Dover Beach” was published in 1867,-it is a representative poem of Arnold and is typical of his outlook on life. In this poem Arnold gives a pointed expression to the loss of faith in the Victorian age. It is marked with an elegiac note, though it has lyric touch about it. The poem is too ‘lucidly sad’ to be regarded as a pure lyric. It is a short poem, running to only thirty-seven lines, but within the short space it epitomize the painful riddles of life which are of universal significance and which have ever claimed the attention of poets and philosophers.
Arnold views about poetry are elaborately stated in his “Study of poetry”, which first appeared as an introduction to A. C. Ward’s selections from English poets. Arnold has a high conception of poetry, he is confident that poetry has immense future. It is in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, our race, as time goes on will find an ever surer and surer stay. It is capable of higher uses, interpreting life for us, consoling us, and sustaining us; that is, it will replace what we understand by religion and philosophy, dependent on reasonings, which are but false shows of knowledge. Poetry with such a high destiny must be of the highest standard.
According to Arnold, there is no difference between art and morality. He says: “A poetry of revolt against moral idea is a poetry of revolt against life: a poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life”. When Arnold pleads for treating in poetry moral ideas, he does not mean composing moral and didactic poems, but the poems that give answers to the question-how to live well. The poem opens with the description of a symbolic landscape. The landscape is composed of details which suggest the serenity, balance, and stability which Arnold desired for himself. The setting is evoked with considerable vividness
“The sea is a clam to-night. 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.”
The poem opens with the emphasis on the calm and the moonlit land and sea. In short statements Arnold creates the visual picture and its emotional counterpart. He calls his companion to come and share the sweetness of air and scene. But at once the “grating roar” of the surf and the sound of the recurrent suck of the receding waves shatters the calm, and sends the poet’s mind first to Sophocles, comparing the fortunes of Oedipus to the ebb and flow of the sea, and then to the retreating tide as an emblem of the loss of faith. His heart writhes in pain to think that faith which once filled men’s minds and vivified their whole being, has now become a thing of the past. He is appalled to see that the society has fallen a prey to doubt, disbelief, distraction and fear, with the appearance of faith the whole society looks like a naked shingled beach :
“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.”
These five lines have the impressiveness of its kind of romantic poetry: a creation sonorous music and a vague-mysterious picture and atmosphere, probably the most musically expressive passage in all Arnold’s poetry and a valid poetic equivalent for this feelings of loss, exposure and dismay. The failure of imagination and intellect to create and control effective imagery is common in Victorian. The actual sea’s sounds and shores engross him, and the image has in fact vanished; and the result is strange for instead of deploring the disappearance of faith, which was really Arnold’s theme, we find ourselves enjoying a description of the sea. –
At one place Arnold says-“Poetry interprets in two ways: it interprets by expressing with magical felicity the physiognomy and movement of the outer world, and it interprets by expressing with inspired conviction, the ideas and laws of the inward world of man’s moral and spiritual nature. In other words, poetry is interpretative by having natural music in it; and by having moral profundity. Human life is full of darkness, men grope like helpless creatures in its darkness. Men remain ever ignorant of the true purpose of life, they go on striving all their life-
“And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
Men in this world without the solid foundations of religion are like ignorant and foolish soldiers who are fighting in a dark battle-field. The poet compares our endless pursuit, hectic activity, relentless struggle to an aimless battle. Men have become materialistic, ungodly and skeptical; and thus Matthew Arnold insisted on the union of the best subjects and the highest expression in poetry which would help men in achieving ethical values.
3. Dover Beach is a short poem, but it embraces a great range and depth of significance.
Or, Discuss-“Although Arnold is a poet of despair, he conveys his restraint.”
experience with remarkable Ans. Poetry is to Mathew Arnold what it was to Wordsworth, ‘the breath and spirit of all knowledge’-the impressive expression of what is in the countenance of all science. And “the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life-to the question : how to live”. Again he says “in poetry, however, the criticism of life has to be made conformably to the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. Truth and seriousness of subjects and matter, felicity and perfection of diction and manner, as these are exhibited in the best poets, are what constitute a criticism of life made in conformity with the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty; and it is by knowing and feeling the work of those poets that we learn to recognize the fulfillment of such conditions. In his “Dover Beach” this observation gains the full grain of truth. Within the space of the poem (only 37 lines) the literary ‘art’ depicts the painful riddles (of life) which are of universal significance. The beautiful literary work (i.e. “Dover Beach”) epitomizes the loss of faith and the consequent doubt, despair that come to grip our minds.
” The poem opens with the emphasis on the calm and the moonlit land and sea. Standing on the Dover Beach the poet looks on the calm, quiet sea-the sea is unruffled tonight; the moon shines brightly on the straits of Dover; a light is seen glimmering on the French coast; each time the waves retreat and roll forward again they toss the pebbles and produce thus a harsh sound and bring in a tone of sadness. The poet imagines-long ago Sophocles had listened to the waves of the Aegean Sea and found the note of sadness in the waves,-the sound then reminded him of the confused rise and fall of human suffering. The poet himself finds a tone of sad thought in the sound of the waves. Faith is compared to sea; and men had questioning faith in religion and this religious faith was the source of their inward happiness. David Daiches rightly observes-“Moonlight for Arnold does not go with roses and romance, but with melancholy, meditation and sometimes even despair. This is seen in “Dover Beach” in which the Victorian problem of loss of faith is given its most memorable utterance :public values have disappeared, and all that is left are private affections, the little society’ of love and friendship.”
The poet is pained and disgusted to see the gradual decline of the faith religion :
“And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
According to Kenneth Allott-“Not strictly accurate, it is not in the ebb and flow of the waves, but in the sight of the full tide that Amold finds his thought. But he then connects the imagined roar of the ebbing tide of faith with the actual sounds of the waves carried up to him from the beach”. Dover Beach embodies the emblematic significance of the tides, the waves of the sea of faith which once surged and heaved are now leaving the sea coast dry and cheerless in accompaniment to the sound of chilly night-wind.
The poet appeals to his beloved to be true and sincere to their love. It is in this sacred love-relationship that the poet wants to realize values to which the world is hostile. The image of battle-field becomes the poet’s most memorable poetic comment on the modern world: men have become sceptical-they struggle and fight without religious faith, without belief in God; and the depth of significance is properly expressed through his tragic experience:
“Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain,”
4. Comment on Arnold’s response to the Victorian age in “Dover Beach”.
Or, What is the melancholy view of Victorian life expressed in “Dover Beach”.
Or, What aspects of Victorian culture are alluded to by Arnold in his poem “Dover Beach”.
Ans. Matthew Arnold was very much dissatisfied with the kind of poetry
written in his own time and he reacted against it. He felt that the poets paid more attention to the form and expression of the poem than to its subject and that they tried to attract readers by the purple patches in the poem and never paid attention to the total impressions of the work. According to Hugh walker-“In respect of passion and color and movement, Arnold is singularly unlike such contemporaries as Browning and Rossetti and such predecessors as Byron and Shelley. The element of passion is not wholly absent from Arnold’s poetry. “Dover Beach” is its melancholy fervour and the genesis of melancholy may be traced back to the tendencies of the Victorian age he lived in. The unprecedented material prosperity in the Victorian age leads to the conflict between science and religion which shook the then society-people’s faith in God, men’s loss of the sense of the spiritual values of life. The Victorian society reached the development of scientific progression and the society people were hankering after material objects and comfort. As a result, they were gradually segregating from spiritual and moral tune. A sense of estrangement from man from God, from nature, from other men, and above all, from his own true inner self looms large in his poem, and lends them peculiar poignancy. The rise of science, the growth of materialism and industrial progress, the appearance of scepticism and agnosticism-all these were leading to the loss of values among the Victorian people. The thought that man does not control his own destiny controlled by some power beyond and above himself, surely produces in himself the melancholy mood which secures his position as one of the frontline poets (of the Victorian era) through the changing waves of opinion down the years. The poet’s disappointment in love, the death of his friend and relatives-all these are also responsible for his melancholy view. The poet could not but despair of human life when he found that even the intellectual leaders were men suffering from the malady of spiritual ignorance and pessimism, that the thinkers of the day could not offer anything really to cure “this strange disease of modern life”. (
In “Dover Beach” Matthew Arnold bemoans the loss of faith in religion, his heart writhes in pain, he wanders aimlessly for there is no true ‘light’ to guide him; he feels alone for there is no –
help for pain; he gets neither security nor stability and drifts full of doubts. His heart writhes in pain to think that faith has now become a thing of the past, and the world has now slipped into the grip of doubt, dispute, distraction and fear. For lack of love he has to be satisfied with fidelity at best. He may be called a modern poet on the basis of his way of writing, his portrayal of the tragic and alienated condition of human being, -he depicts the modern world where human being gets neither joy nor peace
“The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full…..
“But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating to the breath”
“So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude nor peace, nor help for pain,”
Imagery constitutes the most important feature of Matthew Amold’s style, he brings in a host of dazzling images to illustrate his melancholy mood. The images such as-‘the sea of Faith’ and ‘the folds of a bright girdle furl’d’ mean-the catholic church in the Middle Age offered protection, unity and civilizing force to the Christian world. Other images ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar’ and ‘a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful so new’ indicate to expose the vast and dreary edges of the world full of ‘naked shingles’, and to the land (the honeymooning couples want to have for their enjoyment)-the land which is replaced by a world full of negative forces of scientific development. The contemporaries (the then society people in the Victorian era) were engaged in protracted conflicts of class, creed and schism,- they are unable to make understand right (from wrong) due to lack of spiritual fervour.
The uncertainties of his age, the mood marked by indeterminacy characterize Arnold’s poetry too: the conflict between spontaneity and discipline, emotional effusion and restraining reason, skepticism and faith, and between social responsibility and individualistic freedom from the emotional core of such poems as of mortal men on the earth”.
‘Dover Beach’, ‘The Scholar Gipsy’, ‘Resignation’ etc. His poems are therefore regards as “the fruit of calm contemplation and majestic pains” rather than of urgent and imperative impulse. What emerges out of his poem in the somber thinker that dominates his prose work so thoroughly, the same quality of a brooding philosopher characterizes his poem also. This thinker is sceptic in the true Victorian mould, somewhat contemplative and melancholic. To the poet the world was a vale of tears, a place to endure and to suffer. Man’s lot in the universe is one of helpless, hopelessness and despair. Man is lonely and solitary in a populous world. In grief and despair man leads his life, without ever experiencing the glow or joy of life. Arnold’s melancholy is not altogether sickening or sad. It has a silver lining in its cloud-“His scepticism is not without sunshine; his sadness not without gladness”. The feeling of misery and melancholy throbs practically in every poem of Arnold, and can be traced to the philosophical, religious and social changes brought about by the development of science, utilitarian philosophy in his age, that called for a fresh adjustment of values. Finally, we may say that Arnold’s melancholy and pessimism sprang from many causes, the chief of them being-“the contemplation of man’s destiny from the hopeless tangle of his own age, and from the course of the life……