Is "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold a descriptive poem or a meditative one?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Can't it be both?  Matthew Arnold, in his poem "Dover Beach," is highly descriptive AND meditative.  You can see his descriptiveness as he relays the beautiful scene out his window.  He describes the moonlight as "fair," the cliffs as "glimmering," the coast as "gleaming," the land "moon-blanched," the waves as having a "tremulous cadence," and the night air as being "sweet."  His descriptiveness in that first stanza is so detailed and poetic that it is easy for the reader to imagine the beautiful scene out of his window.

From here on out, the descriptiveness does not stop, but, Arnold becomes more meditative.  Instead of just describing the scene in front of him, Arnold also describes his thoughts as he ponders the scene.  The scene is a sad one to him, reminding him of an "eternal note of sadness."  His meditations then move on to the ancient Sophocles, whose plays also reflected "the turbid ebb and flow of human misery."  If the poem were merely descriptive, Arnold would not be pondering anything at all, and would have just described the scene.  But he goes further, and relates his cynical viewpoint on life, that he mulls over as he looks out his window.  From Sophocles he mourns the fact that he feels "The Sea of Faith" and its "long withdrawing roar" that leaves the world empty and devoid of any goodness.  The world as he knows it, though filled with idyllic views from windows, has no " for pain."  He ends the poem with a glimmer of hope, a plea to his loved one to "be true to one another," as it might be the only thing that can save them from the "darkling plain" of the world.

Arnold's poem uses beautiful descriptions to set the scene, and to more poetically express his meditations as he sits at his window.  It is both highly descriptive AND meditative.  I hope that these thoughts helped; good luck!