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Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach

Easier questions to cut your teeth on!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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"Dover Beach" was written in 1867 and paints a picture of what has been described as a "nightmarish world" from which the once powerful forces of Christianity has withdrawn.

The poet was looking over the English Channel from the cliffs at Dover and listening to the sad sound of the waves rushing in over the pebble beach below.

The sound, he said, was described by the ancient Greeks as a reminder of human misery. It was also like the "Sea of Faith" which was now ebbing after nearly two millennia of expansion.

The poet called on his loved one to remain firm or else it would be difficult to stay faithful to truth in the troubled world where there are never-ending rumours of war.


Matthew Arnold was born in December 1822, the son of the headmaster of the now famous Rugby School.

He was initially tutored at Rugby but, in 1841, began studying at Oxford University where he graduated in 1844.

He started teaching at Rugby but, in 1847, became Private Secretary to Lord Lansdowne who was Lord President of the Council. It was then that he published his first book of poetry.

Arnold soon took up a position as an inspector of schools and, because of the increased salary, almost immediately married Frances Wightman with whom he had six children.

He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1857 and was apparently the first man to deliver his lectures in English instead of Latin.

In 1883 and 1884, he toured the United States where he delivered lectures on education and democracy. He retired from school inspection in 1886 but, just two years later, he suffered a heart attack and died. He was then 66 years of age.

Arnold is heralded today -- along with Tennyson and Browning -- as one of the great Victorian poets although his poetry received only mediocre reviews during his own lifetime.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; -- on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
  • List FOUR consecutive words which tell you that it was high tide at the time of writing this poem. (1)

[Need help?]

  • The word "strait" means:
    A. a sea that has no curves;
    B. an island;
    C. a channel of sea between two land masses;
    D. a point of high land jutting out into the sea.

[Need help?]

  • What was the light on the French coast which "gleams and is gone"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • By what name are these cliffs of England commonly known? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Give one word from the poem (other than calm) which tells you that the sea was very calm that night. (1)

[Need help?]

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land.
  • What is meant by "the moon-blanch'd land"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • List FOUR consecutive words which tell you that the poet was probably not standing outside in the open. (1)

[Need help?]

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.
  • What is the "strand"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Using words found in the lines above, describe what type of texture is this "strand". (2)

[Need help?]

  • Explain in your own words the meaning of "with tremulous cadence slow". (2)

[Need help?]

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See also:
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