Matthew Arnold's Biography and Analysis of his Dover Beach

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Matthew Arnold's Biography and Analysis of his Dover Beach

Text of Matthew Arnold's Biography and Analysis of his Dover Beach

  • 1. (1822-1888) Nikki Akraminejad

2. Matthew Arnold , poet and critic, was born at Laleham on the Thames, the eldest son of Thomas Arnold, historian and great headmaster of Rugby, and of Mary (Penrose) Arnold. Although remembered now for his elegantly argued critical essays, Matthew Arnold began his career as a poet, winning early recognition as a student at the Rugby School. Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) 3. In 1844, after completing his undergraduate degree at Oxford, he returned to Rugby as a teacher of classics. In 1847 he became private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, who in 1851 secured him an inspectorship of schools, which almost to the end of his life was to absorb the greater part of his time and energies, and may have been partly responsible for the smallness of his poetical output. But it shortly enabled him to marry. Life 4. In 1850 Matthew Arnold met and fell in love with Frances Lucy Wightman, the daughter of Sir William Wightman, Judge of the Court of Queen's Bench. He wished to marry her, but her father objected to this because Arnold did not seem to have the financial means to support a wife and future children. In August 1850, the Judge took his family on a trip to Flanders (via Calais) and Germany. Arnold, himself on a trip to the Italian lakes, stayed in Calais for a few days, just hoping to catch a glimpse of Frances Lucy. "Calais Sands" must have been written at that time, for the poem clearly shows what his emotions were at that time. Love Life 5. In the spring of the following year, Matthew Arnold was appointed an Inspector of Schools, a job which would earn him 700 a year enough to support a family. The couple announced their engagement in early April , married on the 10 June 1851, and spent their one-week honeymoon at Alverston in Hampshire. On the 1 September, they took a ferry from Dover to Calais and then travelled on to Paris. Parts of "Dover Beach" seem to be quite compatible with the honeymoon scenery. The general melancholy of the poem greatly contrasts the happy situation in which Matthew Arnold found himself. Marriage 6. Matthew Arnold, a familiar figure at the Club, a frequent diner-out and guest at great country houses, fond of fishing and shooting, a lively conversationalist, he read constantly, widely, and deeply, and in the intervals of supporting himself and his family by the quiet drudgery of school inspecting, filled notebook after notebook with meditations of an almost monastic tone. Arnold's character 7. Meditative and rhetorical, Arnold's poetry often wrestles with problems of psychological isolation. In "To MargueriteContinued," for example, Arnold revises Donne's assertion that "No man is an island," suggesting that we "mortals" are indeed "in the sea of life enisled." Other well-known poems, such as "Dover Beach," link the problem of isolation with what Arnold saw as the dwindling faith of his time. Despite his own religious doubts, a source of great anxiety for him, in several essays Arnold sought to establish the essential truth of Christianity. Arnold's character 8. Poetry Some consider Arnold to be the bridge between Romanticism and Modernism. His use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era, while his skeptical and pessimistic perspective was typical of the Modern era. 9. Poetry The mood of Arnolds poetry tends to be of plaintive reflection, and he is restrained in expressing emotion. He felt that poetry should be the 'criticism of life' and express a philosophy. Arnold's philosophy is that true happiness comes from within, and that people should seek within themselves for good, while being resigned in acceptance of outward things and avoiding the pointless turmoil of the world. However, he argues that we should not live in the belief that we shall one day inherit eternal bliss. If we are not happy on earth, we should moderate our desires rather than live in dreams of something that may never be attained. This philosophy is clearly expressed in such poems as "Dover Beach. 10. Arnold's work as a critic begins with the Preface to the Poems which he issued in 1853 under his own name, including extracts from the earlier volumes along with "Sohrab and Rustum" and "The Scholar-Gipsy. In its emphasis on the importance of subject in poetry, on "clearness of arrangement, rigor of development, simplicity of style" learned from the Greeks, and in the strong imprint of Goethe and Wordsworth, may be observed nearly all the essential elements in his critical theory. Literary Criticism 11. His religious views were unusual for his time. Scholars of Arnold's works disagree on the nature of Arnold's personal religious beliefs. Under the influence of Baruch Spinoza and his father, Dr. Thomas Arnold, he rejected the supernatural elements in religion, even while retaining a fascination for church rituals. Arnold seems to belong to a pragmatic middle ground that is more concerned with the poetry of religion and its virtues and values for society than with the existence of God. Religious criticism 12. He wrote in the preface of God and the Bible in 1875 The personages of the Christian heaven and their conversations are no more matter of fact than the personages of the Greek Olympus and their conversations. He also wrote in Literature and Dogma: "The word 'God' is used in most cases as by no means a term of science or exact knowledge, but a term of poetry and eloquence, a term thrown out, so to speak, as a not fully grasped object of the speaker's consciousness a literary term, in short; and mankind mean different things by it as their consciousness differs. Religious criticism 13. He defined religion as "morality touched with emotion". However, he also wrote in the same book, "to pass from a Christianity relying on its miracles to a Christianity relying on its natural truth is a great change. It can only be brought about by those whose attachment to Christianity is such, that they cannot part with it, and yet cannot but deal with it sincerely." Religious criticism 14. His 1867 poem "Dover Beach" depicted a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have receded. It is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first, example of the modern sensibility. 15. In Stefan Collini's opinion, "Dover Beach" is a difficult poem to analyze, and some of its passages and metaphors have become so well known that they are hard to see with "fresh eyes". Arnold begins with a naturalistic and detailed nightscape of the beach at Dover in which auditory imagery plays a significant role ("Listen! you hear the grating roar"). The beach, however, is bare, with only a hint of humanity in a light that "gleams and is gone". Reflecting the traditional notion that the poem was written during Arnold's honeymoon, one critic notes that "the speaker might be talking to his bride". Analysis of Dover Beach 16. The sea is calm to-night. The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; on the French coast the light Gleams 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 spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of 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 bring The eternal note of sadness in. 17. Arnold looks at two aspects of this scene, its soundscape (in the first and second stanzas) and the retreating action of the tide (in the third stanza). He hears the sound of the sea as "the eternal note of sadness". Sophocles, a 5th century BC Greek playwright who wrote tragedies on fate and the will of the gods, also heard this sound as he stood upon the shore of the Aegean Sea. Critics differ widely on how to interpret this image of the Greek classical age. One sees a difference between Sophocles interpreting the "note of sadness" humanistically, while Arnold in the industrial nineteenth century hears in this sound the retreat of religion and faith. A more recent critic connects the two as artists, Sophocles the tragedian, Arnold the lyric poet, each attempting to transform this note of sadness into "a higher order of experience". Analysis of Dover Beach Sophocles long ago Heard it on the gan, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought, Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 18. Having examined the soundscape, Arnold turns to the action of the tide itself and sees in its retreat a metaphor for the loss of faith in the modern age, once again expressed in an auditory image ("But now I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar"). This third stanza begins with an image not of sadness, but of "joyous fulness" similar in beauty to the image with which the poem opens The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world. 19. The final stanza begins with an appeal to love, then moves on to the famous ending metaphor. Critics have varied in their interpretation of the first two lines; one calls them a "perfunctory gesture ... swallowed up by the poem's powerfully dark picture", while another sees in them "a stand against a world of broken faith". Midway between these is one of Arnold's biographers, who describes being "true / To one another" as "a precarious notion" in a world that has become "a maze of confusion". The metaphor with which the poem ends is most likely an allusion to a passage in Thucydides's account of the Peloponnesian War. He describes an ancient battle that occurred on a similar beach during the Athenian invasion of Sicily.