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Historical Context in Dover Beach and Selected Poems

Historical Context Examples in Dover Beach and Selected Poems:

Dover Beach

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"the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery;..."   (Dover Beach)

It is unclear precisely what Arnold alludes to in his evocation of the “turbid ebb and flow/Of human misery” that Sophocles perceived. In a broad sense, Arnold’s phrase sums up Sophocles’s sensibilities around tragedy and fate. As a tragedian, Sophocles wrote often of human failure, futility, ignorance, and mortality. The events of his plays were undergirded with a sense of the tragedy of human life. One passage from Sophocles’s Antigone hints at Arnold’s “ebb and flow of human misery”:

Thrice blest are they who never tasted pain!
If once the curse of Heaven attaint a race,
The infection lingers on and speeds apace,
Age after age, and each the cup must drain.

So when Etesian blasts from Thrace downpour
Sweep o'er the blackening main and whirl to land
From Ocean's cavernous depths his ooze and sand,
Billow on billow thunders on the shore.

"Sophocles..."   (Dover Beach)

Sophocles (497–406 BCE) was a Greek playwright whose best known works include Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Electra. He was the most decorated playwright of the golden age of Athens, winning 24 of the city’s annual drama competitions.

"Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!..."   (Dover Beach)

Matthew Arnold wrote “Dover Beach” in 1851 while on honeymoon with his wife, Frances Lucy Wightman. The poem reflects this context: the poem’s speaker uses an imperative to address his beloved as he ponders the future.

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