Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Analysis of "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold

Original poem reprinted online here: "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold
Originally read: March 4, 2013
More information about the Poet: Matthew Arnold





First off, there are notes about this famous poem on Wikipedia: notes, analysis, historical background. Anything you could ever want to know about this poem you can find very thorough and rich thoughts with a simple google search.

I'm not sure why you are still here.  So I must assume that you are a spambot -- and as such, me, of the "living" and you who are dead with no conscious are the "ignorant armies  [that] clash by night."  Keyword here is "ignorant."

I was just going to end here and let wiki handle it, until I read this on the wiki, "In Stefan Collini's opinion, 'Dover Beach' is a difficult poem to analyze, and some of its passages and metaphors have become so well known that they are hard to see with 'fresh eyes'."

So let my ignorant rambling analysis commence, for I have 'fresh eyes.'  Fresh, ignorant eyes.

So the poem is vers libre where, even though there's no distinct meter or rhyme, there is an emphasis on meter and rhyme occasionally.  Usually, this is done to a) refocus the reader on the subject at hand and/or b) refocus the speaker on the subject at hand.  On my notes, past me tried to find a rhyme scheme (which was futile).

However, the poem starts off with the mention of French and England and the separation by a strait.  The language is very exact -- not that much of flowery description, just observation about landmarks.  Then what I find interesting is the command tone change with the line "Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!" as though to tell the reader or speaker that to go away from the the thought (symbol/representation/projection) of the landmarks (France and England) and experience the place, "Listen! you hear the grating roar / Of pebbles which waves draw back, and fling."  I think this line segways well into the more metaphorical process. What does the wave represent?  What do the pebbles represent?  Or at least the metaphor reading in the last few lines is reinforced in the last three (rhymed, second being an off rhyme, lines), "Begin, and cease, and then again begin, / With tremulous cadence slow, and bring / The eternal note of sadness in."  What is there to remember with these lines -- the speaker interpreting his own work.  The waves are bringing the "sadness" in.  So back to my last question.  If the waves represent sadness, what do the pebbles represent?

Representation has to wait for another day as the allusion of Sophocles is in the next stanza.  I looked this up actually (not the meaning of the poem, but "Sophocles" and "Aegean").  And the only connection I found was the play "Antigone."  There could be a correlation between how Antigone trying to do the right thing by her brother and her uncle, but ultimately being punished is the "human misery" that "ebb and flow."  Also, though,  the speaker is projecting his image of Sophocles -- and look how the projected image mimics the speakers actions.  I'm not writing that the speaker saw himself as Sophocles, rather that they both were thinking of tragedy in the personal level to expand to the epic and vice versa.

In the next stanza, the opening of "The Sea of Faith" has religious contexts and I remember looking the term up but not knowing what the term referred to.  This will hamper my ability to read the poem.  And although the allusion is interesting, the thought process of the speaker is what drew me in.  How the Sea of Faith is now on an ebb, "Its melancholy, long withdrawing roar."  Also in this stanza there's th introduction of the I.  With the introduction, there more of a sense that a speaker is being prophetic and putting himself out there rather than an accumulation of only philisophical thoughts.

"Ah, love, let us be true"  Usually, I'd wonder what "us" referred to, but I think the other thing in the us refers to the concept of love.  This line along with the introduction of the I speaker is trying to change the outlook of the speaker and the poem -- not one of "sadness" or "human misery" or "withdrawing."  In doing so though the speaker returns to the internal, observant, distant  perspective, "To lie before us like a land of dreams."  Then the list of adjectives to describe the "land of dreams" which doesn't have: love, light, certitude, peace, or the ability to help with the pain as though to chose this place is the better of two evils because these adjective cannot be physically confirmed, can be mentally constructed.

Then comes this iambic pentameter line "and we are here as on a darkling plain."  Note how most of the syllables can be read as stressed or unstressed.  Ultimately, there's no place to turn to.  There's nothing to look forward to as "ignorant armies clash by night" -- the English and the French,  the physical self and the mind, a strict form and free verse. 

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