"Moonlight for Arnold goes not with roses and romance but with melancholy, meditation, and sometimes even despair." Elaborate with reference to "Dover Beach."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The quote from David Daiches concerning Arnold's relationship to moonlight is shown to be particularly relevant in this poem, which begins with a scene that would be characterised as beautiful and romantic by any other poet, but for Arnold this beautiful scene definitely causes him to think melancholy thoughts as he meditates upon the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of the Sea of Faith as he imagines its withdraw. The way that moonlight is tinged with despair becomes evident in the final stanza, when the speaker urges his lover to be true to him. Note how the speaker makes reference to his perception of the view before him:

...for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor lover, nor light,

Nor certitiude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Arnold therefore transfuses the beautiful moonlit scene with ultimate despair, as signified by two whole lines full of negatives which summarise the way that he views the world as being defined by the absence of goodness. The moonlit scene to the speaker only shows a panorama which places humans as being helpless victims trying to live in an environment where "ignorant armies clash by night." The moonlight, to Arnold's mind, only serves to emphasise and highlight the true predicament of man in the Modern age as he seeks to survive in a time where faith is absent and only chaos is left behind. Therefore the words of Daiches are particularly true with reference to this poem, as moonlight becomes a vehicle for conveying Arnold's despair about the human condition in his time.

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