Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The prose work of Matthew Arnold, addressed to a more general audience, attempts to suggest to those of his day some relatively public, institutional substitute for the loss of the unifying faith that men once shared, most notably what Arnold called “Culture.” Arnold’s poetry, however, is more personal and ultimately less assured. Virtually all of Arnold’s poetry is the record of his personal search for calm, for objectivity, for somewhere firm to stand.
As a broad generalization, the poem presents the common opposition between appearance and reality; the appearance is the opening six lines, which turn out to be a dream, while the reality of life, which the poet accepts, is the desolate beach and the confused battlefield. The poem also presents the eternal conflict between the wisdom of the heart and the wisdom of the head. The heart is attracted by the pleasant appearance of the view from the window, but the head is forced to take heed of the eternal sound of the surf, which says something entirely different. It is notable in the poem that the poet does not make a clear choice between the two; in fact, he accepts that the world is the way his reason tells him. The problem is how to reconcile these apparently irreconcilable forces. The answer given, tentatively, is that perhaps true love between two people can somehow supply meaning in a world that is still filled with confusion and struggle.
In “Dover Beach,” Arnold is doing two...
(The entire section is 545 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Dover Beach Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!