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Dover Beach. By Matthew Arnold. Matthew Arnold 1822-1888.

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dover beach

Dover Beach

By Matthew Arnold

matthew arnold 1822 1888
Matthew Arnold 1822-1888

Matthew Arnold was born in Laleham, a town in the Thames valley. He spent much of his childhood in nature, when he wasn’t in the school run by his father, Dr. Thomas Arnold. He attended Oxford University, and after graduating, became the private secretary to Lord Lansdowne. In 1851, he became the inspector of schools, a job which led him to travel extensively.

As he traveled through England, he came to see the dullness of middle class life, and the difficulty of living a full and enjoyable life in modern industrial society.

Arnold’s career as a writer is basically in 4 periods: 1850s were mostly poetry, 1860s were literary and social criticism, 1870s were essays on education and religion, and he returned to literary criticism in the 1880s, until his death.

"Arnold, Matthew." Online Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 15 Apr. 2009 <>


The sea is calm to-night.The tide is full, the moon lies fairUpon the straits; on the French coast the lightGleams 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!Only, from the long line of sprayWhere the sea meets the moon-blanched land,Listen! you hear the grating roarOf pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,At their return, up the high strand,Begin, and cease, and then again begin,With tremulous cadence slow, and bringThe eternal note of sadness in.


Sophocles long agoHeard it on the A gaean, and it broughtInto his mind the turbid ebb and flowOf human misery; weFind also in the sound a thought,Hearing it by this distant northern sea.The Sea of FaithWas once, too, at the full, and round earth's shoreLay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.But now I only hearIts melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,Retreating, to the breathOf the night-wind, down the vast edges drearAnd naked shingles of the world.


Ah, love, let us be trueTo one another! for the world, which seemsTo 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 plainSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night.


Please answer the following questions about the poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.

  • Support your answers with specific references to the poem (quotes).
  • 1. Read the entire poem out loud. What are your first thoughts and impressions? (Don’t worry about being right or wrong – just write down what strikes you as interesting, confusing, important.)
  • 2. Reread lines 1-14 out loud. What is the mood of the first 6 lines? Discuss the diction and imagery that Arnold uses to create this mood. What is the mood of lines 7-14? Discuss any changes you see in diction and/or imagery in these lines. What is the overall effect of this opening stanza?
  • 3.Reread lines 15-20 out loud. Who is Sophocles? What plays did he write? How does this allusion reinforce the effect of the first stanza? Do NOT use your laptops to answer this – use your brains. You have very good brains, and the answers are there. (HINT: All of you read something by Sophocles last year.)
  • 4. Reread lines 21-28 out loud. Compare and contrast this stanza with the first stanza. What metaphor does Arnold use in this stanza, and how does this metaphor begin to show the underlying meaning of the poem?
  • 5. Reread lines 29-37 out loud. What is the effect of introducing the "love" in this stanza?
  • What central conflict does Arnold expand on in these lines? (HINT: Look at the contrasting moods in the first stanza.) What is the speaker's assessment of the world? How do the sounds of the last stanza reinforce its meaning? Darkling– “of or relating to growing darkness.” "Where ignorant armies clash by night” is an allusion, which I will explain to you. But, you don’t need to know the allusion to understand the meaning of the simile. What is Arnold saying? What is the poem's final message?
  • 6. This poem was written in 1867. What was going on in the world at this time, in terms of culture, literature, industry and/or religion? In what way can you connect those ideas to what Arnold is saying about the world in the last 5 lines of the poem?