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What is love? This is a question that is often discussed and argued about. Everyone seems to have a different perception on what love truly is. These perceptions help categorize what type of person you are when it comes towards love. This can range from being a hopeless romantic to a person who doesn’t even believe that love exists. A perfect example of how the views of love can be drastically different can be illustrated by these two poems; “Dover Beach” and “Dover Bitch”.
“Dover Beach”, was written by Matthew Arnold in the 19th century.
The love Arnold speaks of in his poem is a deep love that is indestructible. “Dover Bitch” was written by Anthony Hecht, in response to “Dover Beach” and refers to love as being a joke and nonexistent. Arnold can be portrayed as being a hopeless romantic while Hecht is skeptical and a cynic when it comes to love. There are many factors which influence the authors’ literary works including: the time period, the object of love in their poem and their overall view of the world.
These components as well as the tones of the of the poems help convey the author’s view point on love and its place in society.
Matthew Arnold’s legendary poem “Dover Beach” encapsulated the era that the poem was written in. He wrote this poem during the 19th century while he was honeymooning with his wife. Rumor has it that the newlyweds were honeymooning at Dover Beach but no one can be certain.
In order to get a better grasp on what the text of the poem is referring to we must know what’s going on during the time period. When “Dover Beach” was written there was large transformation in how people thought and what knowledge was deemed acceptable.
English society was changing from a primarily religious based society with high religious morals and standings into one that praised and honored the work of science. It was the dawn of the scientific and industrial revolution. With any major change there seems to always be benefits and side effects. Arnold’s poem addresses many of the side effects during this wave of change. Matthew Arnold’s primary point of concern has to do with the fact that people have lost their faith and are sacrificing their true feelings for knowledge.
The Sea of Faith/was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore/ But now I only hear/its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar (lines 21-25)”. These are a couple of lines from “Dover Beach”; they help illustrate how people on Earth have lost their faith and how the world is being affected by it. The Sea of Faith refers to how everything used to be. People were full of faith and were attached to their emotions, but now that faith no longer remains all Arnold can here is a roar of sadness which is sweeping across the land. Anthony Hecht wrote “Dover Bitch” in response to the “Dover Beach” poem by Matthew Arnold.
Although the poems were written only a century apart, views on love and life were immensely different. During the 20th century when Hecht wrote the “Dover Bitch” poem the world as Arnold once knew it no longer existed. Religion played a very minuscule role in society and it was the start of a sexual revolution. Sleeping with multiple people was not frowned upon anymore and the quest to be with one person for the rest of your life was thought to be ridiculous and was extremely uncommon. There was a mindset that there is no such thing as a “one true love”.
Relationships were really just affairs and flings since there was a lack of emotional attachment. Hecht even pushes it as far to imply that what we believe to be love is actually lust and personal quest for pleasure. In a way Matthew Arnold foresaw what the world and what love would become if people were detached from their emotions. The world that he foresaw is the world in which Hecht inhabits; this world has caused Hecht to believe that love does not even exist. Both of the time periods in which “Dover Beach” and “Dover Bitch” were written help play a significant role in how the author views love.
It is within this environment that they are able to perceive and formulate their opinions on love and whether or not it is present in their society. “Dover Beach” and “Dover Bitch” are both poems that describe “love”. However the objects to which the poem is directed are extremely different. The chosen object of the poem also corresponds to the time period in which these poems were written. Arnold’s poem as stated before speaks of a deep love, one that is forever constant. His poem is said to have been written for his wife, which would make sense since they were honeymooning together when it was written.
Ah, love, let us be true/to one another (lines 30-31)”. In the poem Arnold is demanding that the love they have together should be pure and well intentioned. He believes that love exists and what he is experiencing is love and that this love can overpower any obstacle. By reading this poem it can be inferred that Arnold is in love with just one person and that he wants to spend eternity with them. In a way Arnold’s poetry is describing a “one true love”. The idea of a one true love is distinct to the time period in which Arnold lived.
The tone used in “Dover Beach” is very melancholy and lamented. These two descriptive words of the tone are generally perceived as being negative, but in this instance Arnold is melancholic and lamented because he wants his love to last. So although after reading the poem the reader might perhaps almost feel dreary they are given a contrasting feeling of hope. In “Dover Bitch” however the object that Hecht speaks of is a casual fling. This makes the whole poem impersonal and is a blasphemy in the face of love. Hecht’s poem makes a complete mockery of Arnold’s poem.
His word choice, tone and his nonchalant attitude devoted to the object support the fact that he does not believe love exists. There is an underlying theme built into his poem that love is not real and what the “lover” is pursuing is in fact lust and personal pleasure. This pleasure is purely physical and has nothing to do with the individuals emotions. An example of this is when the thoughts of the object used in “Dover Bitch” are revealed. “But all the time he was talking she had in mind/The notion of what the whiskers would feel like/on the back of her neck (lines 9-11)”.
The object is thinking purely of partaking in pleasurable activities such as sex while the man in the poem is “declaring” his love for her. Obviously this is not an example of true love; this certainly doesn’t seem like love at all. In “Dover Beach” Arnold dedicates and pours his heart to a single person which makes the poem more intimate. Hecht however leads you to believe that there is more than one woman in his life and yet he is still unsatisfied. “She’s really alright. I still see her once in awhile/and she always treats me right.
We have a drink/ and I give her a good time, and perhaps it’s a year/before I see her again (lines 25-26). The casual tone the author uses allows the reader to infer that the object of the poem is truly insignificant and holds no value to her so called “lover”. If you have ever witnessed someone who is in love going a few days without their significant other is hard but a year would be a living hell for them. This does not seem to bother the “lover” in Hecht’s poem at all. Basically by reading this poem you are allowed to make the assumption that people confuse lust for love.
Hecht’s skepticism towards love is very apparent upon reading “Dover Bitch”. This skepticism of love is most likely due to the time period in which the poem was written. If most of society is partaking in affairs and are having multiple partners the idea of love might sound a little ridiculous. The words “I love you” wouldn’t take on any meaning after awhile and all hope for love might be lost. This is the attitude that I think the Anthony Hecht obtained and it was with this mindset he responded to Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”.
The last major difference between these two authors and their poems is their outlook on life and where they feel love’s place is in society. Matthew Arnold has a very optimistic outlook on life and feels that love always and needs to have a place in society. Arnold states in his poem that the world around him has been corrupted and is filled with illusions; love can exist in this environment and be a glimmer of hope to all. This corruption is probably referencing the loss of faith in religion and even though that has been disturbed the love that people have does not have to be extinguished.
Being a hopeless romantic Arnold makes it seem that a world without love would be terrible and catastrophic. Hecht however has a cynical outlook on life and feels that love does not even exist in our society. To him love can’t exist in a world like the one we inhabit. In a world full of corruption how can something as pure as love exist? It is safe to say that Hecht never believed in the “one true love” theory and instead this theory was replaced with one night stands and sexual affairs. This is why I feel that Hecht as a negative connotation of love and is skeptical of its existence.
The overall attitudes towards life reflect how they embrace and except love. Leaving us with a hopeless romantic and a cynic. Although there are a lot of differences between “Dover Beach” and “Dover Bitch” they do in fact have some similarities. Both of these poems reflect the viewpoints their author has on life and love. They both encapsulate the time periods in which they were written and show how love was represented in society. The tone of the two poems also plays a key role in deciphering the author’s true feelings towards love.
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