In "Dover Beach," what mood do the first six lines evoke? What details in these lines create that mood?

Expert Answers
teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator
 Arnold creates a lyrical, contemplative mood in the first six lines as the narrator gazes out a window and speaks to his companion of what he sees. A lyrical mood is subjective and conveys emotion. Initially, the narrator is moved by the beauty of the English channel at night. It appears to him as both majestic and tranquil, and so lovely that in line six he calls to his companion to join him at the window and experience it with him.
The six lines are as follows:
The sea is calm tonight. 
The tide is full, the moon lies fair 
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light 
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, 
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. 
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Lyrical images include the standard one of the sea under moonlight. Arnold uses simple language to support the mood as the narrator watches the sea and tells his companion (and us) what he sees: "calm" water, lit by the moon, the French coast, visible in the distance, where light, perhaps from a lighthouse, gleams and is gone. The "vast" cliffs of England convey to him a feeling of majesty, while the words "tranquil bay" reinforce the mood of "calm." Perhaps the most powerful image is of the sweet night air at the open window. The narrator finds it so pleasurable that he calls his companion to feel it with him as well as to see what he does. The exclamation point at the end of the passage draws attention to the depth of the narrator's feelings as he contemplates the nature before him. At this point, his emotions are those of a typical observer, moved by the beauty of a scene.
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first six lines of the poem evoke a mood of peace, quiet, contemplation, and tranquility. The first line creates an image of a calm sea at night. Mention of the moon in the second line enhances the picture of a calm sea under moonlight. Then in the third line the reader catches a glimpse of a far-away light, perhaps of a lighthouse, on the other side of the English Channel. The description of the cliffs of England standing vast creates a feeling of security against the elements, and "sweet is the night air" creates a feeling of warmth and of summer, since the speaker can stand at the open window at night by the sea. Just single words in the six lines help to set the mood. The significant words are: calm, moon, fair, glimmering, vast, tranquil, and sweet. The tone, of course, becomes ominous and threatening as the poem progresses to its conclusion.

Read the study guide:
Dover Beach

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question