Much as it is a poem of vivid images translated into feelings of melancholia and uber sentimentality, Dover Beach has been touted as one of Matthew Arnold’s most admired poems. It was probably composed in the summer of 1851 and subsequently revised for the volume of New Poems in 1867 (Baum, 1958, p. 85). The poem basks in the feelings of self-conflict, loneliness, alienation and inexplicable emotions set during the Victorian times.
The poem consists of four sections or stanzas: the setting (1-14); Sophocles, or the Greek parallel (15-20); the sea at Dover and the Sea of Faith, or the parallel extended (21-28); and the personal appeal (29-37). At the start of the poem, readers could visualize a man standing at the edge of Dover Beach, feeling down and out. His tone is some what indifferent and philosophical about life’s iniquities. He then revealed that there is a woman with him, which he refers to as “love”.
And, it then concludes with a pessimistic lamentation relative to the possibility of human happiness in a time bereft of faith: 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; Anthony Hecht’s Dover Bitch (1968) claimed notoriety in parodying the uber romantic machinations of the male persona in Dover Beach. Hecht even acknowledged Arnold in his poem and begins with these lines:
So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them, And he said to her, ‘Try to be true to me, And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad All over, etc. ’ Noteworthy is that Hecht frankly assumes Arnold to be the speaker and his companion to be a woman, but he does not go on to suppose that Matthew Arnold was telling her not to worry and to leave it all to him; he was fully aware that ‘things are bad/All over’ for everybody, not just for the two of them.
There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion in Dover Bitch that Matthew is going to do ‘this girl’s’ worrying about the world as well as his own. Nor is there any such suggestion in Dover Beach; the speaker’s point is that they are both, and indeed we are all, in the same boat; he is as helpless as his friend, whatever the friend’s sex. Gender seems here to be about as irrelevant as it can ever be. Whatever the appearances to the contrary, the world “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain”.
Nearly everyone assumes that Dover Beach was written with Mrs. Arnold in mind. If one assumes further that the picture of Dover Beach in the moonlight – “Come to the window” -represents the stop of Arnold and his wife at Dover on their wedding journey in June 1851, there would be corroboration in the later lines: “the world which seems To lie before us . . . So various, so beautiful, so new”, there would be additional poignancy in the appeal “let us be true To one another” in spite of all its hostile forces mentioned in the poem.
In fact, Duffin (1962) illustrated that Dover Beach provides a lovely picture of married love: the poet, looking out on the calm, moonlit straits, speaks over his shoulder to his wife. In his way, the poet interprets for her the sound of the waves upon the beach, hearing “the eternal note of sadness” and comparing it with the ebbing of “the Sea of Faith”. He lets the mood oppress him, making him see life as a loveless, joyless confusion of struggle and flight, with but one refuge—“Ah, love, let us be true/ To one another! ” (p. 75). On the other hand, Hecht assumed that the girl was some sort of a high-class prostitute:
Well now, I knew this girl. It’s true she had read Sophocles in a fairly good translation And caught that bitter allusion to the sea, But all the time he was talking she had in mind The notion of what his whiskers would feel like On the back of her neck…. To have been brought All the way down from London, and then be addressed As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty. Hecht translated Arnold’s romanticism and helplessness to be viewed by another person who exhibits anarchic individualism, who viewed the iniquities of the woman rather than the feeling.
Hecht even deconstructed the poetry form of Dover Beach as he wrote the poem that has a casual tone, something that is spoken as a gossip in a tavern or bar. Readers could even probably assume that the speaker is a bartender. When the presence of the universal becomes more important than its structure, value comes to reside more in intensity than in the meaning of actions, more in the fact of participation with the forces of process than in the results achieved by action and society’s approval of them. Clearly, Hecht took advantage of Arnold’s aloofness to the girl at the starting stanzas.
The woman’s presence is only recognized at the end of Arnold’s poem, crafted in such a way readers should think about the whole picture about what the remainder of the story really is. Hecht’s speaker in Dover Bitch could only roll his eyeballs about the uselessness of the heart-rending oration to a woman is who is not all interested in the entire romantic conflagration. The speaker feels that this woman more concerned with her own tangible pleasures than the speaker’s bleak view of life. Both poems are exquisite in their own way. Arnold’s poem was romantic and Hecht’s was allergic romantic.
Arnold created this scene at the Dover Beach and Hecht just criticized the speaker in the poem to stop the “mournful cosmic last resort” idea to view and start to view life’s realities in a different perspective. It somewhat a poetic way of saying that “Life is a bitch, I know. Deal with it! ” Clearly, reading these poems, readers could tell the significance of what “point-of-view” means when to ascertain what thoughts of the people could be in a story. Works Cited Baum, Paull F. Ten Studies in the Poetry of Matthew Arnold. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1958. Duffin, Henry Charles. Arnold the Poet. London: Bowes & Bowes, 1962.
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