Tuesday March 4
Arnold and Hopkins
Both of these poets argue that the secularization thesis (Victorian society becoming
more secularized) is too simple. They suggest that there are still people with a
traditional faith and bring that into their poetry.
• Faith and doubt are reciprocal – they can go together
Arnold, ‘Dover Beach’
• Indicative of some of the angst that Victorians faced
• Sums up an anxiety about what one can know
o Scientists such as Darwin were rethinking how the world was created, it
was more difficult for people to argue that humans were special and
o The poem suggests that perhaps people aren’t at the center of history
• Nature doesn’t seem to be giving people confidence about their place in the
o eg. in Wordsworth’s romantic poetry, nature was a place of retreat and
o In Dover Beach, nature is the product of geological forces (than designed
• For some people this is a pessimistic poem
• This is a dramatic monologue (a type of lyric poem)
o The same kind of poetry as Robert Browning wrote
o Browning would create a character that was distinct from the speaker, but
in this poem we sometimes see Arnold as the speaker
o The listener is taken to be the bride (it is written on a honeymoon)
• The groom doesn’t seem to be very optimistic about the life that lies ahead of him
and his bride
• There is a revelation of character in his feelings and the spirit of his age
• Setting: Dover Beach in England
o Has a big cliff that drops off
o It is a pale colour (“the white cliffs of Dover”)
o On a foggy day it can look like the edge of the world
o It is located in southeast Britain, not far from France
During WWII it was a spot where they could keep watch for the
o It would be a place where you could go and have some deep and
• What is the speaker lamenting for? What has been lost?
o Faith has been lost – not just religious faith
o The tone is conversational, direct, and intimate
o We have a feeling the speaker is about to talk about what has been lost • Stanza 1 – Sight
o At first, the speaker just gives ordinary assertions (just stating points, not
using similes or metaphors). There is no interpretation.
o At the same time, it as if the speaker is feeling worry or anxiety and is
trying to assure himself of things he can be sure of.
o As the poem goes on, we see that this is likely the limit of his knowledge.
The poem begins with sight to the point where we can’t see
o We have the idea that to see something is to know it – you have to be able
to see something to verify that it’s there (that is what knowledge is)
o We are told to listen when sight will no longer suffice
• Stanza 2 – History
o After looking at and listening to the ocean from the window, Sophocles
now comes into his mind (he tries to draw connections between their
o The speaker wants to secure a reference by making connections and
locating himself in history (but also talks about time as arbitrary)
o The Victorians were obsessed with what it means to live in your own
• Stanza 3 – Sea of Faith
o Arnold is coming around to the profound metaphor of the “sea of faith” –
suggesting that faith (the ability to know and believe) was once full, but
now he can only hear the sea
o Even the line lengths of the poem is irregular – the appearance seems to
replicate the idea of a sea of faith that is randomly organized
• Stanza 4 – Consolation
o The sea of faith is in retreat, we can no longer know anything.
o Marriage may be the only space where you can find consolation from the
sea of faith (life)
Many things in life are beyond your control, but you can make
something long-lasting and beautiful in the domestic sphere
o However, we don’t know if this is the ultimate recourse because the poem
leaves behind the sea of faith and to a place of battle where people don’t
know who or why they are fighting (it is so dark), and they end up turning
on themselves and fighting each other because they can’t see.
o The entire culture falls into disarray because people don’t know how to
o We are no longer sure about the potential for marriage or intimacy as a
way to counteract this.
o Most of the poem is irregular, but the end falls into couplets.
This could be seen as a calm coming to the storm, or a case for the
opposite (everything is changing) Hopkins, ‘The Windhover’