As level poetry essay: Land poems -Dover Beach

Essay title: ‘Some of the poems in this collection appear to be about the landscape but are really about something else’

Using ‘Dover Beach’ as a starting point, compare and contrast with at least one other poem to show how far you agree with this statement.

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Eleanor Marshall
`Some of the poems in this collection appear to be about the landscape
but are really about something else'
Using `Dover Beach' as a starting point, compare and contrast with at
least one other poem to show how far you agree with this statement.
While at first glance, the theme and form of Dover Beach seems to be explicit with
`The sea is calm tonight' lulling the reader into a romantic, mellow sense of security.
However it can be interpreted in many different ways. Written on his honey moon,
one would expect the poem to be Matthew Arnold's amorous proclamation of his
love for his new wife, yet as the poem progresses the tone becomes more and
more negative. The poet begins by `setting the scene', describing a moon bathed
beach, leading onto the calm `glimmering' sea. The lines `Listen! You can hear the
grating roar' and 'sweet is the night air!' explicitly appeal to the readers senses.
This use of sensual description can be seen in many poems, for example in Rudyard
Kipling's 'Way through the woods', sound is used to involve the reader, and create an
almost tranquil, natural mood. 'You will hear the beat of a horse's feet, and the swish
of a skirt'. However the sole use of sound could leave the reader with a more
sinister, helpless feeling, unable to 'see' or 'smell' the images presented. This is not
the case in 'Dover Beach' with sight, smell and sound being interwoven throughout
the first thirteen lines, to present the reader with a magnificent, comforting
'glimmering' image.
Suddenly, the poem shifts from romantic descriptions of present observations to
the thoughts of a past philosopher. A transition begins from a relatively comfortable
and peaceful setting, with the image of a beach at night being easily accepted by the
audience, to a more questioning, thought provoking tone. However the use of the
senses is still evident. As in 'Way through the woods' hearing is the only sense
present in the following 7 lines. 'The eternal note of sadness' 'Sophacles... heard it'
'Hearing it by this distant northern sea' all focus primarily on the use of sound and
hearing. This means that the poem is no longer focussing solely on the landscape, or
descriptions of the landscape, but on this 'eternal sadness' of the 'turbid ebb and
flow of human misery'.
'Dover beach' could be seen as a cyclical poem, beginning with descriptions of the
sea, the returning to these descriptions. However, one gets the impression that the
second description has a much deeper meaning than simple observations. 'Its
melancholy, long, withdrawing roar' has a very different tone to 'Listen! You hear the
grating roar'. The exclamation mark on 'Listen!' denotes a sense of excitement, or
enjoyment, while the almost dragged out descriptive pattern of three used in the
illustrative image of the 'melancholy... roar' not only personifies this 'Sea of Faith' but
portrays a much more negative tone. This could be an example of pathetic fallacy,
projecting his personal feelings onto the sea.

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Eleanor Marshall
However this 'Sea of Faith' could be interpreted in a very different way, such as the
withdrawing of religion. Due to the ever growing popularity of Darwinism throughout
the Victorian era, religion and faith was beginning to be questioned. This total
upheaval of something previously thought of as fact appears to have left Arnold
confused and without direction, 'at sea' almost. This is fortified when the poet
describes the world as without `certitude'.…read more

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Eleanor Marshall
others simply run on to one another `up the high strand, / Begin and cease'
suggesting that while his thoughts are coherent, perhaps some are not as structured
or well planned as others, especially towards the end when Arnold begins to present
much more abstract, metaphorical imagery, setting a much more sinister scene as
the reader is introduced to the `darkling plane'.…read more


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