Dover Beach Dover Beach: Beauty Hides Pain Poet, Matthew Arnold, presents a very real theme of love in his poem, Dover Beach. Where he creates a scene of beauty among the sea and shores, mixed with night and moonlight, he also is presenting us with the underlying misery, which is easily over looked and disregarded. Arnold writes, really, of love and loss, and relates it to beauty with hidden misery. The first stanza of the poem paints a picture for the reader of beautiful nighttime off the shores of England and France, where the water and the moonlight reflect each others beauty. The sea is calm tonight / The tide is full, the moon lies fair / Upon the straits; (1-3).
But, as the poem goes on, Arnold reveals the same secret misery to the reader that the scene eventually reveals to the speaker. He talks of the surface beauty of the world that disguises what has happened in the past. This is Arnolds way of expressing to us that love is love because of all its beauty, happiness, and perfection. But, only certain loves are true, so in other words, like the world holds much sadness in its history, love as well becomes saddened or lost, or holds great potentials to be saddened or lost. on the French coast the light / Gleams and is gone; (3-4).
The French coast has a sadder history because of the French defeat in the battles, which Arnold writes of. The coast of England has the same sad essence because of the losses of life, but the English were not defeated, so, in turn, the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay (4-5). Like the light on the French coast Gleams and is gone, so does love that ends. It shines and brightens peoples loves until it fades out. In the other situation, the shores of England maintain their brightness, glimmering forever over a calm bay. This is a love that never dies, but always shines, forever, over tranquil times; this is a relationship that lasts and manages itself without rough waters or times.
The speaker in this poem is afraid to lose his love. It is evident that he loves his woman greatly, but as he looks out over the beautiful scene, which hides so much that is not beautiful, he is afraid that his great love for her does, too, hold a hidden sadness that will one day end. Ah, love, let us be true To one another! 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, (29-33) What the eye sees should be true, but that is not always the case. When two people have love, or are in love, it also should be true, but that as well is not always the case. The speaker is pleading with his lover to be true in love with him. He feels somewhat let down by the fact that two things in this world, which should be true what one sees, and love, can very easily not be true. He is afraid.
The entire structure of the poem goes from true beauty and peace gradually out to fake beauty and fake peace. It begins with beautiful scenery and ends with the vision of clashing armies. It is the deterioration from something great into something that isnt. This in itself represents the fading-out of love. Love begins so intense and untainted, and gradually deteriorates outward or downward to nothing.
The turning point in the poem begins to appear where Arnold writes: Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in. (9-14) This is also the turning point in love when it goes sour. This is a serene scene shattered by a disturbing noise, which doesnt seem to fit the picture of beauty that he is looking at. This goes for love, too. Arnold writes, Listen! because for two people in love, it is easy to miss the small hints of bad times arising, unless you truly listen or look for it.
The pebbles represent the quarreling, the arguments, or even the problems, that may begin between two lovers, but are over looked as something that is potentially bad. The pebbles are tossed back and forth, like the harsh words, but then stop when the tide goes out when waters are calm, when love is calm. Then they begin again and repeat their process, like the arguments between distancing lovers, which seem to continue on in patterns. Eventually, like the pebbles bring in with them the memories of soldiers washing to the shores, or the memories of the harsh battles clashing with the shore, more and more, the sadness comes in and builds itself up, and eventually ends the love. Arnold is explaining in this poem that there is little protection from this destroyer of love and beauty. The destroyer is inevitable if the elements of earth, or the elements of the situation are headed in that direction. Its melancholy, long withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.
(25-28) The naked shingles are the pebbles exposed to water, air, sand, etc. Each element has its way with the pebbles tossing them back and forth, and wearing them away, rounding them, altering them. So, the naked shingles are the lovers, exposed to what ever may happen to them, or to their love unable to fool lifes course or destiny, but only able to be subjects to lifes course, and take whatever life hands them, however life molds them, or however life separates them. Arnold is trying to show or tell us in his poem that where there is beauty there is ugliness, where there is love there is loss, where there is happiness there is pain, and each is inevitable. The sea is calm tonight, the moon is fair, and the light / Gleams (1,2,3-4).
It is night and the moon is shining in other words, where there is dark, there is light, and where there are calm waters, there are rough waters, too. One can only see through the dark with a light, like one can only see the truth by experiencing pain. In one last connection to this usage by Arnold, one cannot appreciate the beauty of something with out knowing what ugliness that thing is capable of having. So, one cannot find true love without knowing what true love isnt. Arnolds speaker knows all this, which is why he stands at the window pondering these thoughts and why he pleads to his lover that their love please be true. A very strong line in this poem, which sums up the theme is Where ignorant armies clash by night (37).
Ignorant armies whom depended more on fighting than on love, who were ignorant to the nastiness of war and ignorant to beauty and life. At the same time, Arnolds speaker is speaking of his own inner worries or demons that fight, or clash with each other over the stresses of true love or hidden love. These inner conflicts he contains are ignorant in that they may, too, be missing or not picking up on the un-authenticity of the relationship. Or, perhaps he fears his lover to have these inner conflicts, which she has yet to realize as well. In reading Matthew Arnolds Dover Beach, one realizes the uncertainty of life, the sadness of life, and the mystery of life. But, at the same time, in reading Dover Beach one recognizes the beauty that the world is capable of, the love that people are capable of, and most importantly that with out these ironic opposites, the world would not be capable of progressing in to each of these things, and we as people would not feel the extravagant emotions that we do. Poetry and Poets.