March 23, 2015
“Dover Beach” versus “Dover Bitch”
There are always two sides to every story. The message of “Dover Bitch” by Anthony Hecht cannot be adequately understood unless the reader has previously read “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold written in 1851. Written a century later, “Dover Bitch” debunks the message of “Dover Beach” by telling the other side of the story. Arnold describes love as complete and faithful, whereas Hecht shows love can be messy. Hecht makes fun of “Dover Beach” by possibly altering how the reader may interpret love. The reader must look at both sides before they can fully understand either.
“Dover Beach” is a romantic poem about a man gazing upon the coast in thought, concerned about the future. The husband promises loyalty to his wife no matter what the future holds: “Ah, love, let us be true” (line 29). While staring into the night, the husband compares his life to the sea: “Begin, and cease, then again begin” (12). Sometimes the waters are calm and other times rough. The husband asks his love to be faithful although times are uncertain. This background information is important to understand what Hecht is inferring in “Dover Bitch.” After reading “Dover Bitch” one might think the husband may feel something is out of place in their relationship. Hecht reveals the wife’s side of the story told by the speaker, which the wife is having an affair with. The lover sheds light on the woman’s feelings as he tells her story. The woman is not completely ready to leave behind “all the wine and enormous beds” (Line 14). This allows the reader to understand she enjoys the fancy life style along with the variety of men. The speaker describes their relationship in the following quote: “We have a drink/And I give her a good time” (25-26). Hecht exposes the character of the wife and sheds a different light onto the meaning of Arnold’s poem.
The diction of “Dover Beach” is natural, uncertain, and loving, but the diction of “Dover Bitch” is criticizing. The word “Sophocles” (16) allows the reader to understand the time period the poems were written. The definition of “Sophocles” (16) is a Greek Dramatist, which isn’t a common word in modern times. The tone at the beginning of the “Dover Beach” is smoothing: “The sea is calm” (1). This connotation makes the reader feel relaxed. Towards the middle of the poem the tone changes to uneasy or uncertain. The husband is in deep thought about the future of his marriage and the world around him. Thoughts came “into his mind the turbid ebb and flow” (17). Loving is the final tone of the poem, which shows the husband believes there is hope in his marriage: “the world, which seems/ To lie before us like a land of dreams” (31-32). The tone of “Dover Bitch” is playful. Hecht is making fun of Arnold’s poem by saying words like “etc., etc.” (5). To show the wife doesn’t care about what the husband says and is not capable of thinking as deep, which denotes the wife doesn’t really want to be on the beach on Dover with her husband: “As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort” (18). The reader now understands marriage is not always easy or perfect.
The setting of “Dover Beach” is