Technical Qualities, Symbolism, and Imagery of "Dover Beach"
In "Dover Beach," Matthew Arnold creates a dramatic monologue of the Victorian Era that shows how perceptions can be misleading. Arnold conveys the theme of "Dover Beach" through three essential developments: the technical qualities of the poem itself, symbolism, and imagery. The theme of illusion versus reality in "Dover Beach" reflects the speaker's awareness of the incompatibility between what is perceived and what truly is real.
The technical qualities of the poem include rhythm and meter, rhyme, figures of speech, sound, and irony of the words. The mechanics alone do not explain why illusion and reality differ, but they do help to explain how Arnold sets up the poem to support the theme.
The most prominent mechanisms include the rhythm and the meter of the lines and the stanzas of the poem. Line 1 is an iambic trimeter: The sea/is calm/to-night. The gentle pulsating rhythm of the iamb mirrors the ebb and flow of the sea. The actual words of the first line manifest this idea to picture a calm sea gently lapping at the beach. The second line, an iambic tetramater, also reveals a calm sea. However, line 3 breaks the pattern and forces the reader to break his or her own rhythm. Line 3 includes: Upon/the straits,//on the French/Coast/the light. The line begins and ends with an iamb, but the middle is broken up with an anapest. The anapest is a foreshadow of the tumult to come. The fourth line breaks up even farther with an anapest at the beginning, but the fifth line recovers the rhythm. Glimmering/and vast//out in/the tran/quil bay.
The rhythm recovers by the end of the first stanza, but the original trimeter has not. The number of feet per line constantly increases from three to four and then to five, once again, a foreshadow of the upcoming struggle. The underlying, yet easily overlooked, lack of a pattern in the rhyme scheme reflects the speaker's inner debate. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza consists of ABACD. The first and third lines rhyme, "to-night" and light," but no other lines rhyme in the first stanza. The same instance occurs in the second stanza's rhyme scheme of BDCEFCGHG. Multiple lines do rhyme, but in no set pattern. This opposes the pattern of the iambic rhyme of the first stanza.
The second stanza attempts to regain a pattern using alternating anapests and iambs such as in line 6: Come to the/window//sweet is the/night air!, but the pattern disappears in line 7 only to reappear in line 8. Where the sea/meets the moon/-blanched sand. The pattern of iambs continues through the stanza, but the number of feet per line never project a pattern. In other words, by the use of a pattern in the rhythm and the lack of a pattern in the number of feet per line and the rhyme scheme, Arnold portrays an outwardly rhythmic and flowing poem with underlying confusion and strife. The illusion of the rhythm masks the reality of the struggle of the...