Matthew Arnold, the great Victorian, is found to carry on the great tradition of Wordsworthian love for nature. In his love for the quiet aspects of nature, in his approach to nature as a source of peace and calmness, Arnold remains definitely a close follower of Wordsworth.
In fact, as a nature poet, Arnold’s affinity with Wordsworth is extremely close. Of course, he is not a philosopher of nature like his great preceptor and has not emphasised the moral of the soothative effect of nature on human sufferings. He is rather a painter of nature-a detached observer of natural forms and colours. Here he seems to come closer to Keats and Tennyson.
But even as a painter of nature, Arnold is much different from Shelley and Keats. He goes to paint in verse the sober and quieter aspects of nature. Here, again, he certainly belongs to the great Wordsworthian creed. In his presentation nature is not gorgeous or spectacular, but rather calm and silent. His emphasis is on natural beauty, quietude and gracefulness.
‘Dover Beach‘, acknowledged universally as a typical instance of Arnold’s great poetry, testifies to his genius as a poet-painter of nature. The poem has, no doubt, a highly philosophic implication and serves to substantiate Arnold’s own doctrine that “Poetry is at bottom a criticism of life” under the condition fixed for poetic truth and poetic beauty. The poem shows, in no less measure, his power to present a high criticism of life against the background of a quiet natural scene. Moreover, it reveals his power to draw the graphic pictures of nature that excel in calmness and loveliness.
The very opening lines of the poem remarkably indicate Arnold’s power to represent nature vividly and vigorously with all its beauty and serenity, with all its scenic splendour and natural gloom-
The sea is calm to night
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;-on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone;
The poet brings together the full tide, moonlight on the straits of Dover and the gleaming light on the French coast. The scene is grand, yet quiet. The poet’s presentation of the cliffs of England, glimmering and vast, against the tranquil bay, with the long line of spray, is also graceful and clear. The scene also contains one of the poet’s favourite expressions “moon blanch’d land”, with reference to the sea beach. The imagery is further extended to the grating roar of the pebbles which the waves draw back and fling again, as they return, on the high strand. The scenes of continuous flow and ebb of the seawater with tremulous cadence is definitely picturesque.
What is more, this scenic background is remarkably used by the poet to give vent to the sad reflection on life and the existing situation. The poet’s elegaic note—his philosophy of melancholy-is buiit on the same. The image of the receding seawater is exploited by the poet to convey the idea of the receding faith in human life, The turbid ebb and flow of human misery has a metaphoric analogy with the picture of the sea, gently flowing and receding-
The sea of Faith
Was once, too at the full, and round earth’s shore.
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d
Indeed, the scenic background of nature is made to echo well the human mood and feeling, the human sense of despair and melancholy at the perception of a sea of faith, lost in the receding seawater of modern life.