"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"nightmarish world" from which the once powerful forces of Christianity has withdrawn.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.
ABOUT THE POET
Matthew Arnold was born in December 1822, the son of the headmaster of the now famous Rugby
He was initially tutored at Rugby but, in 1841, began studying at Oxford University where he graduated
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)
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)
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)
- Comment on the use of onomatopoeia in these lines. (4)
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
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
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)
- Does the poet view religion in a positive or in a negative light? Explain. (4)
There is a major contrast between the TONE of Stanza 1 and that of Stanza 4. Explain. (4)
Why, in your mind, does the writer comment, "Ah, love let us be true to one another!"? (4)
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)
- Explain the connotation behind the writer's claim that we are here on a "darkling