The Dover Bitch Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

For all its mockery of Arnold, Hecht’s dramatic monologue is a tribute to the power that its predecessor continues to exert. Moreover, for all its irreverence, “The Dover Bitch” is nevertheless a love poem, though it is a poem about love without illusions—as if that were not a contradiction in terms, as if love were not irreducibly itself an illusion. As an alternative to the elevated but perhaps empty sentiments that the speaker in “Dover Beach” proffers his companion, Hecht’s speaker offers a kind of love that is candid and carnal, and all the more ardent for his acceptance of his beloved’s imperfections. While Arnold can love the woman standing beside him on the coast at Dover evidently only by elevating her into a disembodied philosophical principle, Hecht’s speaker embraces concrete love by embracing a woman who is alive in an imperfect body, one “running to fat.”

In The Study of Poetry Arnold called poetry “a criticism of life,” by which he meant not an attack on, but a disinterested examination of, the subject as it is in itself. Hecht echoes the phrase in the subtitle he attaches to “The Dover Bitch,” as though the poem that follows is, in contrast to Victorian obfuscations, going to allow readers to examine life for what it is in itself. Hecht’s appropriation of the phrase “a criticism of life” is perhaps also a coy play on the contemporary sense of criticism as deprecation, as though the shabby world...

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