Dover Beach - Influence

Influence

William Butler Yeats responds directly to Arnold's pessimism in his four-line poem, "The Nineteenth Century and After" (1929):

Though the great song return no more
There's keen delight in what we have:
The rattle of pebbles on the shore
Under the receding wave.

Anthony Hecht, U.S. Poet Laureate, replied to "Dover Beach" in his poem "The Dover Bitch".

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc. etc."

The anonymous figure to whom Arnold addresses his poem becomes the subject of Hecht's poem. In Hecht's poem she "caught the bitter allusion to the sea", imagined "what his whiskers would feel like / On the back of her neck", and felt sad as she looked out across the channel. "And then she got really angry" at the thought that she had become "a sort of mournful cosmic last resort". After which she says "one or two unprintable things".

But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right.

Kenneth and Miriam Allott, referring to "Dover Bitch" as "an irreverent jeu d'esprit", nonetheless see, particularly in the line "a sort of mournful cosmic last resort", an extension of the original poem's main theme.

"Dover Beach" has been mentioned in a number of novels, plays, poems, and films:

  • In Dodie Smith's novel, I Capture the Castle (1940), the book's protagonist remarks that Debussy's Clair de Lune reminds her of "Dover Beach" (in the film adaptation of the novel, the character quotes (or, rather, misquotes) a line from the poem).
  • In Fahrenheit 451 (1951), author Ray Bradbury has his protagonist Guy Montag read part of "Dover Beach" to his wife Mildred and her friends in order to show them what literature is about and why books should not be burnt. One of Mildred's friends cries over the poetry while the rest of it complain over how filthy it is and how Montag is nasty.
  • Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 (1961) alludes to the poem in the chapter "Havermyer": "the open-air movie theater in which—for the daily amusement of the dying—ignorant armies clashed by night on a collapsible screen."
  • Ian McEwan quotes part of the poem in his novel Saturday (2005), where the effects of its beauty and language are so strong and impressive that it moves a brutal criminal to tears and remorse. He also seems to have borrowed the main setting of his novella On Chesil Beach (2005) from Dover Beach, additionally playing with the fact that Arnold's poem was composed on his honeymoon (see above).
  • Sam Wharton quotes the final stanza in his Jonathan Hare novel 'Ignorant Armies' set in 1954, and one of his characters uses it as a commentary on the failure of senior people to maintain appropriate standards of conduct.

The poem is mentioned in:

  • Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury,
  • Jakarta by Alice Munro,
  • The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy,
  • A Song For Lya by George R.R. Martin,
  • Rush's song "Armour and Sword", from the album Snakes and Arrows (lyrics by Neil Peart),
  • Nora's Lost, a short drama by Alan Haehnel,
  • Daljit Nagra's prize-winning poem "Look We Have Coming to Dover!" which quotes the line, "So various, so beautiful, so new" as its epigraph,
  • the poem "Moon" by Billy Collins,
  • the travel narrative A Summer in Gascony (2008) by Martin Calder.
  • The Flying Dutchman character quotes the last 12 lines as he looks towards the sea in the movie, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.
  • Kevin Kline's character, Cal Gold, in the film The Anniversary Party recites part of "Dover Beach" as a toast.
  • Samuel Barber composed a setting of "Dover Beach" for string quartet and baritone.
  • Jeffrey Eugenides "The Marriage Plot", p. 201 (bottom), Farrar Straus and Giroux paperback ed. 2011

The poem has also provided a ready source for titles:

  • On a Darkling Plain by Clifford Irving, A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve, As On a Darkling Plain by Ben Bova (the title refers to a Martian plain covered with strange unexplained artifacts), Clash by Night, a play by Clifford Odets (later made into a film noir by Fritz Lang), "Ignorant Armies" by Sam Wharton, and Norman Mailer's National Book Award winner The Armies of the Night about the 1967 March on the Pentagon.
  • The Sea of Faith movement is so called as the name is taken from this poem, as the poet expresses regret that belief in a supernatural world is slowly slipping away; the "sea of faith" is withdrawing like the ebbing tide.

Even in the U. S. Supreme Court the poem has had its influence: Justice William Rehnquist, in his concurring opinion in Northern Pipeline Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50 (1982), called judicial decisions regarding Congress's power to create legislative courts "landmarks on a judicial 'darkling plain' where ignorant armies have clashed by night."

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