“Dover Bitch” by Anthony Hecht parodies the poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. The original poem spoke of the movement of the sea and its representation of the sights and sounds of the world beleaguered by war.
The speaker in Arnold’s poem stands with his love and asks her to look with him on the scenic view of the cliffs of Dover and the French shore line. The world takes on a pessimistic state stemming from the scientific impact on the elegant Victorian world.
In "Dover Bitch," the poet takes a twentieth century view and incorporates the Arnold poem with a different point of view. The serious Arnold probably would have found little humor in this satirical approach.
The poem begins with Arnold standing with his girl looking out into English Channel and the cliffs of Dover are falling apart. Summarizing Arnold’s words, Hecht removes romance from the words by adding at the end of the line….etc., etc.
The speaker explains that he knew Arnold’s girl and that she has actually read Sophocles referred to in Arnold’s poem. Hecht portrays the same scene from the girl’s perspective. The lady in question has come to the sea for pleasure. While Arnold was talking about the sea and its movements, she was thinking about what it would feel like to have his beard rubbing on the nape of her neck.
When the speaker talks to the lady about the alarming world around them, she told him that she begins to look out at the sea and the lights on the far shore. What come to her mind were the French wine, the perfumes, and all of the enormous beds. This makes her very mad. The lady may be a bit self-centered.
It is doubtful that such a staunch gentleman would have brought this particular lady with him. All she can do is harp on about Arnold and how he brought her to this place from London. Arnold does not seem to have an understanding of what a woman really wants and needs.
This girl was attractive. She watches as Arnold walks back and forth in their room. He now has a pocket watch as is sweating while he looks out the window. Obviously, the Arnold speaker feels some kind of stress. On the other hand, Hecht’s speaker appears to be laid back, cool, and to have a better grip on the woman wants. Arnold’s speaker tends to ignore the woman, so she curses him.
Later, the Hecht speaker explains tht the woman is an "okay kid."
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again…
Despite Arnold’s slight mentioning, he appears to have a considerable amount of admiration for the man who talks to the lady and tries to share his thoughts with her. Hecht’s gentleman shares his hedonistic desires with the woman and actually reduces her to sex and her obesity. The twentieth century man does not measure up to the nineteenth century gentleman