What is the meaning of the last three lines in the poem "Dover Beach"?"And we are here as on a darkling plain..."Also, how does "Dover Bitch" by Hecht respond to this...

What is the meaning of the last three lines in the poem "Dover Beach"?

"And we are here as on a darkling plain..."

Also, how does "Dover Bitch" by Hecht respond to this poem? Is Hecht affriming Arnold's pessimistic belief or is he making fun of it?

Expert Answers
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The final stanza of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," leading up to those final three lines, seems contradictory and complex. Here is the stanza in its entirety:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! 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 love, nor light,
Nor certitude, 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 (lines 29-37).
The stanza begins with hope, exclaiming that we should love and "be true / To one another!" Arnold describes the world as "seem[ing]" to be "So various, so beautiful, so new," but he immediately undercuts the apparent wonder of the world by saying it really has no "joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain." These lines shift to a darker tone that will be continued in the poem's concluding three lines. The list of qualities that this world seems to have, but does not actually possess, imbues the poem with a sense of melancholy and hopelessness, directly contradicting the first two lines of this stanza.
Those final three lines describe how "we," meaning humankind, "are here as on a darkling plain." This means that the surface on which we stand is darkening, the world around us becoming gloomier. Around us, there are "confused alarms of struggle and flight." This is a world marked by noise and instability. In the final line, the word "ignorant" suggests that the "armies" who are fighting and creating all this chaos don't even know what they are fighting for, which makes the battle seem useless. The reference to night connects back to the darkness Arnold evokes in these last few lines as well. The three lines at the end of "Dover Beach" end the poem on a rather bleak note; while the speaker wants to see love and truth, his reality instead forces him to confront the conflict and suffering of the surrounding world.
dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The last three lines of Arnold's poem "Dover Beach",

"And we are here as on a darkling plain...swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight...where ignorant armies clash by night",

express the author's bewilderment at the state of the world, which, instead of being filled with "joy...love...and light", is more like a battleground, where confusion and destruction reign.  It is the author's hope that the love he shares with the woman to whom the poem is addressed will transcend a reality where comfort and peace are lacking.

I think that in his poem "Dover Bitch", Hecht is both making fun of Arnold's pessimistic belief and affirming it as well.  His crass portrayal of the object of Arnold's affections as a woman who is, unbeknownst to him, vulgar and unfaithful, is told with an earthy realism which makes Arnold's flowery, romantic notions seem ludicrous.  Ironically, the effect of this portrayal affirms Arnold's pessimistic fears at the same time as it mocks them.  The world is indeed not a place where high-mindedness and noble ideals prevail, and Arnold's hope for refuge in an untainted love is empty and meaningless as well.