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Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach

More challenging questions!

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a picture of what has been described as a "nightmarish world" from which the once powerful forces of Christianity has withdrawn.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:

"Dover Beach" is divided into four stanzas.
  • Explain the main themes of each stanza, using no more than 5 words each. (2 x 4)

[Need help?]

Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land.
  • Why would "the moon-blanch'd land" be a particularly apt description of the land around Dover that particular night? (4)

[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.
  • Comment on the rhythm of these four lines. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the use of onomatopoeia in these lines. (4)

[Need help?]

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
  • Why should the sound of the sea remind the poet of the "eternal note of sadness"? (4)

[Need help?]

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery.
  • Why should the sound of the sea remind Sophocles of "the ebb and flow of human misery"? (4)

[Need help?]

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
  • Why would watching the sea at night remind the author of religion? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Does the poet view religion in a positive or in a negative light? Explain. (4)

[Need help?]

There is a major contrast between the TONE of Stanza 1 and that of Stanza 4. Explain. (4)

[Need help?]

Why, in your mind, does the writer comment, "Ah, love let us be true to one another!"? (4)

[Need help?]

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
  • What is the poet's attitude towards warfare? How do you know this? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Explain the connotation behind the writer's claim that we are here on a "darkling plain"? (4)

[Need help?]

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