Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in Dover Beach and Selected Poems

Vocabulary Examples in Dover Beach and Selected Poems:

Dover Beach

3

"a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night...."   (Dover Beach)

The adjective “darkling” refers to that which is dark, in the dark, or in a state of darkening—all of which could apply to the “plain” in this line. The speaker envisions the night-cloaked seascape as a battleground. The sounds of the waves are once again personified, in his case as the “confused alarms” raised by “ignorant armies.” The clash can be interpreted in several ways. In one sense, it expresses the tone of unease and dread. On a somewhat more literal level, the clash might symbolize the struggles the speaker has referred to, namely those over faith. Taken in this context, the clashing armies represent the two sides of the debate over faith as it plays out, both in society and within the speaker himself. Crucially, both armies are “ignorant,” leaving readers with no sense of righteousness or resolution.

"neither joy, nor love, nor light,..."   (Dover Beach)

The final five lines of the poem restate the speaker’s sense of mounting darkness and foreboding. The world “really” is devoid of “joy,” “love,” and “light.” The use of “really” is key in that it clarifies the arc of disillusionment the speaker has undergone as the disturbing reality has revealed itself.

"tremulous cadence..."   (Dover Beach)

The phrase “tremulous cadence” personifies the tide as a human voice. The noun “cadence” refers to rhythmic modulations, whether the rhythms of a voice or of a song or poem. The adjective “tremulous” refers to a trembling quality, granting the voice of the personified tide a sorrowful tone.

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