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.
In this excerpt from the poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, the poet sets a serene and picturesque scene by describing the tranquil sea and moonlit surroundings. The opening lines establish a sense of calmness and stillness as the sea is described as “calm tonight” and the moon’s light is reflected on the water. The mention of the “French coast” and the “cliffs of England” emphasizes the geographical context, providing a sense of place and distance.
As the scene unfolds, the reader is invited to a window to enjoy the pleasant night air, invoking a sensory experience. However, amidst this serene setting, a sense of melancholy creeps in through the poet’s description of the waves drawing back pebbles and flinging them onto the shore. This cyclical motion of the waves, accompanied by the “grating roar” of the pebbles, is imbued with a certain sadness. The waves’ ceaseless rhythm becomes a metaphor for the unending cycles of life, symbolizing how moments of beauty and tranquility are inevitably accompanied by a sense of melancholy or sadness.
This passage captures the essence of Arnold’s theme in “Dover Beach,” where he juxtaposes the external beauty of the natural world with the internal complexities of human emotions. The sea and moonlit landscape represent the fleeting moments of happiness and calmness in life, while the rhythmic sound of the waves pulling back pebbles serves as a constant reminder of the underlying sadness that coexists with these moments. Arnold’s skillful use of imagery, sound, and juxtaposition highlights the intricate interplay between external appearances and the underlying emotions that define the human experience.
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.
These are from the poem Dover Beach written by Matthew Arnold. Arnold, along with Tennyson and Browning, constitutes the Victorian trio. The decay of faith and the spread of industrialism form the background of Victorian poetry. His poetry, with its religious doubt, regrets for the loss of man’s earlier harmony, disdain of the ‘comfortable moles” blinded by materialism, and insecurity about the future is a poetry of austere melancholy. In the present poem, the poet sees himself as one who has stood alone on a naked beach from which the tide of faith has ebbed.
After presenting a memorable description of the romantic atmosphere near the beach at Dover, Arnold depreciates the absence of christian values as a result of which men have abandoned the kindly life of the country with its ancient picties for the feverish competition of anufacturing towns. Sophocles was an Athenian tragic poet and dramatist. He heard the “turbid ebb and flow of human misery in the same way as Arnold. Arnold viewed the human predicament from the Dover beach exactly in the same way as Sophocles was looking at the ebb and flow of human misery from Aegacan coast.
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These lines are remarkable because here Arnold has been perfectly successful in applying his ideas to life. The reference to Sophocles indicates his knowledge of classical literature. Arnold’s poetry is academic in the best sense. The tone is habitually grave and often sad. But it lacks technical interest.
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.
These lines have been taken from the poem entitled Dover Beach written by Matthew Arnold. Arnold occupies a significant place in the realm of Victorian poets. He is the most thoughtful of the Victorian poets. The poet is less passionate of love and his treatment is reflective, and has neither the brooding intensity of Browning nor the sensuousness of the ordinary love lyric. He felt perhaps more intimately than any of his contemporaries the difficulty of life in this material world. He had none of the complacency which many found in the material progress of the age. In the present poem, Arnold sees himself as one who has stood alone on a naked beach from which the tide of faith has ebbed.
The poet is looking at the delightful scene near Dover Beach and he invites his beloved to relish it. Then again, he is experiencing a sense of melancholy wistfulness at what he is seeing. He yearns for the sea of faith that once was full but is now sunk so low. Once, the sea of faith was so full to the brim that it touched the earth’s shore like a bright girdle. But now Arnold finds it missing from this universe. The melancholy cry of the sea-waves is always audible.
These lines are important because they give us an insight into Arnold’s awareness of the vanishing of old values like faith and fidelity. Arnold is perfectly classical in his artistry. His style is simple and direct, his pictures are complete and cleat with a wonderful economy of words. Like all poems of Arnold here we have an ‘application of ideas to life’.
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.
These are the concluding lines of the poem entitled Dover Beach written by Matthew Arnold. Arnold belonged to the Victorian school of English poetry. The decay of religious faith and the spread of industrialism form the background of his poetry. He was dissatisfied with the contemporary life. He saw himself as one who stood alone on a naked beach from which the tide of faith had ebbed. Arnold was essentially a reflective poet. His poems strike a note of tender melancholy, but they do not reflect pessimism. His melancholy ends in a mood of stoic resignation and calm. In the present poem, he criticises the contemporary life for its loss of faith.
After presenting a memorable description of the romantic atmosphere near the beach at Dover. Arnold depreciates the absence of christian values as a result of which men have abandoned the kindly life of the country with its ancient pieties for the feverish competition of manufacturing towns. The theme of the above stanza is inconstancy and infidelity in love with the Victorian England. The poet is in love with a woman Marguerite by name of the several sorrowing lovers of his time, the poet is one but Marguerite for whom the world is ‘so various, so beautiful, so new’, is among the souls “charmed at birth from gloom and care”. happy in herself asking no love and plighting no faith. And her indifference brings home to Arnold sharply and dramatically. what he believes to be the emotional situation of the modern man, his insufficiency, his uncertainty, his dilution of spirit. At times he feels the indifference as a betrayal and a humiliation comparing his own constancy to her fickleness. But chiefly he realises that the warm, tender, pathetic love of Dover Beach, the ultrance of a need arising from despair, can mean nothing to one in whom the outgoing emotion which her lover mistook for love is merely the “bliss within”, an exuberance of spiritual poise.
These lines are representative of Arnold in particular and of Victorian poetry in general. Here, he explains his philosophy of life, his deep appreciation of the problems of life. The note of tender melancholy is the special feature of the poetry of Arnold. This melancholy seems to be caused by his frustration in love. The language of Arnold, here, is simple and clear.