Dover Beach - Composition

Composition

According to Tinker and Lowry, "a draft of the first twenty-eight lines of the poem" was written in pencil "on the back of a folded sheet of paper containing notes on the career of Empedocles". Allott concludes that the notes are probably from around 1849-50. "Empedocles on Etna", again according to Allott, was probably written 1849-52; the notes on Empedocles are likely to be contemporary with the writing of that poem.

The final line of this draft is:

And naked shingles of the world. Ah love &c

Tinker and Lowry conclude that this "seem to indicate that the last nine lines of the poem as we know it were already in existence when the portion regarding the ebb and flow of the sea at Dover was composed." This would make the manuscript "a prelude to the concluding paragraph" of the poem in which "there is no reference to the sea or tides".

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To 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 from pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Arnold's visits to Dover may also provide some clue to the date of composition. Allott has Arnold in Dover in June 1851 and again in October of that year "on his return from his delayed continental honeymoon". To critics who conclude that ll. 1-28 were written at Dover and ll. 29-37 "were rescued from some discarded poem" Allott suggests the contrary, i.e., that the final lines "were written at Dover in late June," while "ll. 29-37 were written in London shortly afterwards".

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