Matthew Arnold

(1822-1888 / Middlesex / England)

Dover Beach - Poem by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; - on the French coast the light
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Topic(s) of this poem: beach


Comments about Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

  • (4/26/2010 7:44:00 AM)


    “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold remains one of my most enjoyed intriguing poems from the study of Victorian Prose and Poetry, and I was intrigued by the effect it had upon this stretch of shore, when Victorians flocked to it and stripped it of specimens, as access by train allowed ease of excursions and the origin of species impacted upon curious conflicted minds. Yet I found accepted conceptions of Victorian insight simplistic, their struggles to perceive the changing unsettling reality of a redefined world are sincere probing diverse and sometimes melancholy.
    Arnold seems to have written “Dover Beach” like a deliberate mix of sonnets complete and incomplete to establish a style appropriate to his conflicted age, yet observation of nature turning melancholy is an ancient tradition. Sophocles, Arnold and many of us have listened awed by similar sounds of the tide upon varied beaches; the Aegean reference grounds humanity in past and present and the sea and shore feature heavily in Greek myths and plays, as is expected from ancient seafaring nations, but “Dover Beach” does not allude to a specific play; but rather connects with the sounds of a few lines in Sophocle's 'Antigone'. Sand wind and turbulent sea are still universally appealing reflective topics.
    Arnold writes a poetic invention to solve and address the conflict of ideas and attitudes the scientific challenge of Darwinism, and the religious doubt and confusion it produced in some with a sudden abandonment of God, wrought upon the psyche of diminishing belief. The speaker in “Dover Beach” is Victorian and the sea of faith has ebbed, yet Arnold has a solution in poetry. Arnold wrote in his essays The Study of Poetry, that “without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry”. Arnold put his faith in poetry. The line “Ah, love, let us be true/ to one another! ”, is a declaration of faith to uplift fellow Victorians, and encourage them to stand firm upon a ‘darkling plain’. This love that should remain true and faithful seems to be in this context, Arnold secretly affirming the views of Jesus Christ in The Bible, for a shaken ethnocentric English populous.
    Interesting that the Victorian Web considers Arnold an Agnostic, when he devoted his later life to theological texts and essays and little poetic writing. Arnold redefines religion in Literature and Dogma (1873) , as “morality touched with emotion”. Whatever Arnold’s exact beliefs were, he stands out as a blazing star of inquiry in the Victorian Era.
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  • (4/26/2010 7:21:00 AM)


    I don't agree with the idea that a world stripped of faith would be such a bleak and depressing place but I still really enjoyed this poem. The description of the beach is beautiful and poignant. It sets the tone for one who is troubled by the retreating tide of faith in the world. The final stanza calls to his love to be constant, while so much in the world is not. Sometimes after reading the news I recognise this description of the world but not caused by an absence of faith but by an absence of humanity. (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (4/26/2010 5:51:00 AM)


    I detest this poem. Arnold’s description of the good Earth could be of Hell. The idea that the withdrawing of the Sea of Faith leaves it like that is nonsense. The Christian view of the Earth as an inferior “unreal” place of tribulation, to serve only as a spiritual test by which we get to a “real” heaven, is pernicious nonsense. He asks “…love, let us be true” and then annuls the possibility of real love by claiming that the world “Hath really neither joy, nor love etc.” This poem is hateful in its black and bigoted view of a world which we are only recently learning how to value. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (4/26/2010 1:42:00 AM)


    Matthew Arnold critical mind tells us through this poem to see reality as it is and not carried away by the land of dreams or the calm of the sea that is unreliable. The roar and ebb and flow of the sea waves are like the misers of life everyone undergoes in the world! Nice free poem to read! (Report) Reply

  • (4/26/2009 12:17:00 AM)


    http: //www.victorianweb.org/authors/arnold/touche4.html (Report) Reply

  • (6/14/2008 8:27:00 PM)


    My father loved this poem so much that my torch was ignited
    by his reverence
    (Report) Reply

  • (4/26/2008 10:07:00 AM)


    'Dover Beach' by Matthew Arnold is not a descriptive poem about
    a particular stretch of sand where on moonlit nights, an observer
    might see the distant lights of the far shores of France. All the
    earlier comments have focused on that aspect of Arnold's four
    stanza poem.

    The first stanza stresses the roar of the sea as it recedes from
    the beach, which introduces the eternal note of sadness. A far
    cry from 'The sea is calm tonight, ' which is an illusion, a dream
    of something not true in reality!

    Second stanza recalls the great Greek tragic dramatist Sophocles
    on the shores of the sunny Aegean, whose plays explore that
    illusion and the reality that human life is an ebb and flow of misery.

    The Sea of Faith (rise of Christian belief) was once truly catholic,
    a universal faith in redemption held throughout western Europe.
    But in Arnold's day, that belief has been eroded and is receding.

    The final stanza is an apostrophe to a lover, a caution to wake up
    from the illusion of the land of dreams and realize the struggles
    between the ignorant armies of the night that confuse and alarm
    us as we strive to see with clarity the world as it is!
    (Report) Reply

  • (6/5/2007 6:45:00 PM)


    >Helen Unknown wrote '...could feel the shingle being thrown about by the tide! '

    Well said!

    Listen! you hear the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,

    I believe this means no more than it literally says, that is, it describes the precise action of the sea on a shingle beach. If you have ever been fortunate enough to observe the surge of the sea, you will recall that after a wave has flung itself onto a shingle shore, the water drains back, and in so doing drags vast numbers of pebbles with it. They emit a distinctive sound as they tumble over and over each other and grate together to become rounded and polished. The next surging wave scoops them up and hurls them high onto the shore.

    'Begin, and cease, and again begin, ' is a truly wonderful, but ever so accurate, description of the sea in such a place. We think of a surging sea as always moving but this is not quite so. When a wave draws back from the shore into the sea, there is a short period of time when movement largely ceases preparatory to reversing for the forward onslaught of the next wave.

    I feel that all of the first verse is an exceedingly accurate description and that Matthew Arnold is speaking from experience. Consider things in a purely physical sense: The narrator says he can see the French coast (20+ miles away) so he must be high up on the White Cliffs of Dover. Given the apparent brilliance of the moonlight it is probably about the time of full moon. This means the moon appears to rise out of France (in the east) shortly after sunset. For the next few hours and because the sea is calm the moon's reflection shines brilliantly on the waters of the Straits of Dover ie 'the moon lies fair upon the straits; '

    My own observations of moonlit coasts as 'about the beach I wandered nourishing a youth sublime' support the adjective 'moon-blanched'. I think that's it exactly, although the most memorable moon-blanchedness I can recall is of a valley of grainfields shining in a midnight moonlight. So beautiful and dramatic that I can still 'see' it thirty years on.
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  • (2/1/2007 10:41:00 AM)


    This is a most stunning poem, I love the whole watery theme, could feel the shingle being thrown about by the tide! What a delight to have found this - thank you Jim! HG: -) xx (Report) Reply

  • (12/21/2005 9:38:00 AM)


    I love this poem. I had to do it when i was but wee as a poerty reader in a competition and despite the fact i really liked it i never got fast the second round because i kept forgetting it.
    Nick
    (Report) Reply

  • (5/2/2005 11:01:00 AM)


    I found a reference to this poem in the new Ian McEwan book 'Saturday' so I came to this web-site, which is new to me, thank you for providing poems and other infomation. Now, I hope to find a contemporary poem in free verse that would express similar emotions! ! ! (Report) Reply



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