Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach

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Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach

Great works of poetry convey a feeling, mood, or message that affects the reader on an emotional, personal level. Great works of poetry can do that -- translate a literal story/theme -- but masterpieces, like Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," are a double-edged sword, containing a second, figurative theme -- a message between the lines and underneath the obvious. Not only is Matthew Arnold's 1867 poem, "Dover Beach," a unique and beautiful literary work describing a lover's longing for trust and faith, but on a figurative plain it also stands as a metaphor for that constant evil called war.

Literally, "Dover Beach" flows through four irregularly rhymed sections that increase in emotional impact and describe a lover's need for faithfulness in an otherwise dark and unfaithful world. In this traditional sense, the narrator of "Dover Beach" is either a man or woman standing at a window wearily reflecting on the world while staring at the beauty of the night coast. In the first section (Arnold's poem is very prose-like in its lack of a distinct structure or rhyme scheme, sputtering through the first nine lines in an abacdbdce rhyme scheme), the lover declares that "The sea is calm tonight." The poem continues with simple imagery of the atmosphere, describing the full tide, the moon, the beaches of Dover, the night air, the waves, all of which we presume are viewable from the narrator's window. The scene is cemented: a moon-bathed beach, the waves drawing back, only to crash back in a "grating roar of pebbles." "The eternal note of sadness" is set as the lover begins to question the beauty he sees and the love he longs to keep.

The next two sections of "Dover Beach" describe a w...

... middle of paper ... ignorant armies clash by night." Whether Arnold intends to imply that these things were murdered and driven from the world by war or that they never even existed in the first place is left to the readers to decide for themselves.

On a traditional, literal level, Matthew Arnold's poem, "Dover Beach," is a vivid voice praying for faithful love in a beautiful yet evil and faithless world, but figuratively, the poem is a metaphor for the cycle of war and the darkness it brings to the world. The waves represent the battles, the pebbles the innocent people flung about by their power, and that note of despair present throughout the entire poem hints at no possible end for weary romantics like the poem's narrator. Crying both for the endurance of love and an end to war at the same time, "Dover Beach" stands as a poetic masterpiece of one eternal note: sadness.
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