"Dover Beach" is a well-written poem authored by Matthew Arnold. This is a good poem to analyze, because of the complex theme and usage of literary devices. "Dover Beach" is a three stanza poem that contains a different number of lines in each stanza. About half of the lines in the poem are in iambic pentameter, while the rest of the lines contain two to four feet. The rhyme scheme in the poem appears to be abac, dbdc.
Matthew Arnold creates the mood of the poem through the usage of imagery. He also uses descriptive adjectives, similes and metaphors to create the mood. Through the use of these literary devices, Arnold portrays a man standing before the window pondering the sounds of pebbles tossed in waves as a representation of human suffering. The man arrives at the vision of humanity being helpless against nature. Arnold creates the mood by giving the reader mental pictures of the actions, sights and sounds the man sees. Arnold's use of imagery and descriptive adjectives are used to create the impressions of the setting and to create the fluctuating mood, which is the eternal struggle of nature over man.
In "Dover Beach", Matthew Arnold uses detailed adjectives and sensory imagery to describe the setting and portray the beginning mood, which begins with the illusion of natural beauty and ends with a tragic human experience. The poem begins with two-part stanzas, the first that is promising and hopeful, and the second that replaces optimism with a reality that is grim. Arnold uses contrast when he appeals to the sense of sight in the first section and to hearing in the second. Arnold starts with the descriptions of the "calm sea", "fair tide" and the "vast" cliffs, which create a calming, innocent appearance. This sets the mood of peace and contentment, which the speaker feels when he gazes out upon the sea. "Come to the window, sweet is the night-air", gives the reader the impression of a cool, summer night. The mood begins to be soothing and calming to the reader. Arnold then begins to change the tone. Arnold describes, "The grating roar of pebbles, of the pebbles which the waves draw back", with "a tremulous cadence". This portrays the image of an imaginary battle on the land of Dover. Arnold writes of the horrible sound of the pebbles beating away at the land. The pebbles are eroding the land away, which the speaker thrives off of and adores. Arnold illustrates the man's internal battle with the land destroying his home and him being helpless to its destruction. These descriptions add "the eternal note of sadness" to the poem.
In the second part of the poem, Arnold uses the same style of writing; however, he speaks of human history to further support the mood of the "Sea of Faith" and it's "eternal sadness". Arnold writes of Sophocles hearing the "eternal sadness" on "the Aegean" with it's "turbid ebb and flow". This appeals to the sense of hearing and causes the reader to almost hear powerful waves crashing to the land below. Sophocles saw the waves as sounds of "human misery". Arnold is portraying the parallel thought between the speaker's feelings and Sophocles's same sadness over the changing of the land. The metaphor of the tides and the sea is suggested by the sounds and view of the speaker's window, but Arnold uses Sophocles as another example of nature's strength over the entire world. Arnold uses this to illustrate the speaker's despair and helplessness over his situation. Arnold uses this writing to exhibit the conflict between the land and the sea, and how more than just land suffers from the destruction. Arnold wants to show how deep the speaker's emotions run for his home.
In the third stanza, Arnold uses imagery and metaphors to depict the setting, which further set the mood of the poem. The first three lines portray and suggest prospects of a visual image. The last five lines appeal to the auditory sense in the form of despair. In the first part of the stanza, Arnold characterizes the sea as divine. "Lay like the bright folds of a girdle", stimulates the reader's visual sense and causes a sense of peace. Arnold refers to the sea as the "Sea of Faith", to portray how the speaker respects and despises the sea at the same time. However, in the last five lines, Arnold returns the reader to the dismal view of the land struggling with the sea, with a man caught in between. The cycle of the speaker's thoughts is portrayed in the writing style. The poem bounces from contentment to despair, just as the speaker is feeling. These literary styles fully illustrate and complete the story's mood. Arnold utilizes this part of the poem to advance from the sea to the "Sea of Faith" with "girdled furls" to expose hopelessness to "the naked shingles of the world".
In the last stanza, Arnold ties all of the thoughts of the speaker together, while incorporating imagery, to illustrate how by examining nature and history, the reader has reached the reality of the inevitable. Arnold portrays how the speaker bitterly sees "the world, which seems "to lie before us like a land of dreams" "hath really neither joy, nor love nor light". Arnold uses repetition here to illustrate the despair and hopelessness of the situation. The descriptive adjectives also stimulate visual sensations and images of the dismal sea destroying the land beneath it. Arnold leaves the reader with the harsh reality of the "ignorant armies clashing by night". This metaphor ties together how the speaker's battle is very similar to a soldier's battle. The speaker's battle; however, is futile to fight, because he knows he will never win.
The fluctuating mood and usage of descriptive adjectives illustrates the setting and ties the poem together to create the mood. The image of the tides battling with the land when they meet, is merged with the consequent destiny of humanity to battle futile fights with nature. By dividing the poem into three stanzas, the speaker represents the fluctuation from peace of mind to despair. Arnold uses many literary devices to show these fluctuations, which also gives us the theme of humanity's transformation of happiness to despair.
Arnold, Matthew. "Dover Beach." Western Wind. Eds. John F. Nims and David Mason. Boston: Mcgraw Hill, 1998. 225-26.