Before we can discuss Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," a brief biography of the poet will help us understand the poem and the mood he is in while writing it. The reader should know that Matthew Arnold married Fanny Lucy Wightman at Dover, despite her father's disapproval. Wightman's father was vocal in his objections to the marriage, insisting in 1850 that the two should end their romance and cancel their wedding plans (Furr). Thus, Arnold penned "Dover Beach" in 1851, drawing from his own experience as a man who is torn between love and war. Arnold uses shifts in sensory imagery to alter the tone of the poem to present the reader with the challenges he faces during his courtship.
Arnold's use of sensory imagery helps the reader to imagine the experiences that invoke sight, hearing, sense of smell and taste, and tactile perceptions. Consider his use of imagery in this pattern of related details, found in the first three lines of the poem:
The sea is calm tonight, / 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! (1-7)
Arnold and his beloved bride-to-be peer from a window in a room overlooking Dover Beach. From their lofty vantage point, the moonlight reveals an ocean that lies calm, a tide that is full, the distant coast of France, and the cliffs of England. Arnold describes a night in which the gleam of the moonlight shimmers across the bay. This is a most tranquil night and he is sharing it with the woman he loves. The imagery he is planted in our minds is of all of beautiful and wonderful scenery. Even the smell, the "Sweet is the night air," presents Arnold's readers with an awareness of the world around them (6). Each line is over flowing with deep thoughts. Arno... Continues...