Dover Beach Study Guide
Introduction to Dover Beach
“Dover Beach” is a lyric poem by Matthew Arnold. It was first published in Arnold’s 1867 collection, New Poems, but is believed to have been written well before that. Though the poem is written in a free-verse style with no specific rhyme scheme or meter, it is often noted for its musical cadence and diction. The historical and geographical references give the piece a sense of time and place, though its themes have remained salient for contemporary readers.
“Dover Beach” is widely regarded as Arnold’s reflection on the changing relationship between science and religion in the nineteenth century. As industrialization swept across the world and scientific progress expanded, the religious sensibilities of the past fell increasingly out of fashion. Arnold, whose father was a member of the clergy, laments that the societal dismissal of religion has left the world ringing with an “eternal note of sadness.” However, hope is not lost: Even if religious doubts have left people feeling empty, love and human connection can fill the void left behind by faith.
A Brief Biography of Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) was a British poet, social critic, and school inspector. He is often regarded as one of the great Victorian poets, alongside Tennyson and Browning. Arnold was often a troublesome and underachieving student during his school years, much to the chagrin of his parents. However, one of the few academic topics to which he would devote himself was poetry. After an uninspired academic career, Arnold worked as a private secretary. It was during this period that he released his first collection of poems, which focused heavily on feelings of loneliness and introspection, to the surprise of his acquaintances. Out of a desire to have a stable enough income to marry, Arnold then sought out an appointment as an inspector of schools. He would hold this position for thirty-five years, though he referred to it as “drudgery.” However, this regular work and income allowed him to write in his spare time. Over the course of his life, Arnold wrote poetry, prose, and works of criticism. Though he never obtained great acclaim during his life, his writing continues to be a source of study, particularly his most famous poem, “Dover Beach.”