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Thursday, May 07, 2020

Critical Appreciation of Dover Beach - Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" is one of the finest poems which deals with the growth of materialism and lack of faith in Victorian age. Matthew Arnold has been considered as the greatest Victorian poet after Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. He was a poet, critic and thinker.

Matthew Arnold has also been known as the most elegiac poet of the Victorian age. The Reader finds a blending of Classicism and Romanticism in Arnold’s poetry. The deep note of melancholy hovers over his poetry. Though Arnold was a staunch supporter of Classical spirit, he had great love and respect for the romantics also.

Critical Appreciation of Dover Beach
Critical Appreciation of Dover Beach

Before studying Matthew Arnold’s poetry, it is very important to take a glance of social, political and religious conditions of the Victorian age. In the middle of the nineteenth century, England made tremendous progress in science, commerce and industry. The Victorian age was an age of materialistic development. 

According to Arnold, there was no place for spirituality, religion and traditional values. Materialism, scepticism and agnosticism were worshipped and traditional values and spiritual development were discarded. Actually, it was an age of confusion, conflict, and social unrest. Matthew Arnold as a Classicist, was very much disturbed and criticized the growing tendency of materialism in people.

Critical Appreciation of Dover Beach

In “Dover Beach” Matthew Arnold laments over the loss of religious faith and traditional values. The poet has adroitly employed figures of speech in order to convey his views in a more clear way. Matthew Arnold's “Dover Beach” deals with his tender feelings, love, and respect for traditional values and religion. The poet has expressed the sorry state of mankind in the midst of confusion and clash of ideas. 

The poem “Dover Beach” opens with a pictorial description of Dover Beach. The poet describes the serene and tranquil English Channel at Dover on moonlit night. The glowing landscape at Dover is highly symbolic of materialism, scepticism and atheism as well. The moonlight of atheism, scepticism, materialism has enveloped the European continent, particularly England and France. 

In “Dover Beach” the sea is identified as religious faith which was in full tide in the past. But the poet suggests that the materialism has overshadowed spiritualism and religious values. The materialistic things have allured people because they appear as beautiful and pleasant as the moonlit night. 

Arnold says that the materialistic progress is of little use for the people. He wants people strive for spiritual upliftment along with material progress. The materialistic things would lead mankind to graveyard. The raging waves of the sea are dashing against the shore. The waves carry with them the pebbles lying on the coast as the waves recede. 

Here, the pebbles stand for scepticism and agnosticism. When the waves advance, they fling pebbles back to the sea. The clash between materialism and spiritualism is implied dexterously by the poet. 

Further the poet alludes to the famous playwright Sophocles who in his age had also witnessed or experienced the decline of all traditional values. The rise and fall of the musical sound caused by the withdrawing and advancing of the waves bring to Arnold’s mind an eternal note of sadness. Arnold experienced the fall of spiritualism when he was with his wife at Dover. 

In the next part of the poem, the poet observes the Victorian age full of disbelief and confusion and the traditional values and religious doctrines are losing their glory and are crumbling down. For Matthew Arnold, there is no joy and comfort but Arnold seems to be little optimistic when he finds solution to this problem. 

Matthew Arnold thinks that love alone can bring comfort and relief to the Victorian age. Love is unchanging and firm as the lighthouse in the sea which guides the ships whenever there is tumult in the sea. The poet addresses the all people in the world –

“Ah love, let us be true 
To one another! for the world which seems – 
To lie before us like a land of dreams.”

Matthew Arnold suggests that in the confusing and disturbing atmosphere of disbelief and degeneration, love can bring comfort and relief to people and it will also inspire them. 

The poet further says that the landscape and the sea look lovely and enchanting on a moonlit night but this beauty is deceptive, elusive and it is just a mirage. The people who blindly follow materialism are compared to soldiers who are fighting in the darkness, but they are totally unaware of their enemy. 

According to Matthew Arnold, the Victorian people are exactly like ignorant soldiers fighting against the unknown soldiers in the darkness. They are enslaved by materialism and scepticism and they are confused. They don’t know what will comfort them. Materialism is misleading them and brings about their ruin. 

Thus, Matthew Arnold in his poem "Dover Beach", has  expressed his sadness and anguish with the help of figures of speech. He laments over the loss of faith in people due to growing materialism and decadence of moral and spiritual values.                    



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