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Nature in Arnold’s “Dover Beach” and Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” Essay

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2021

English literature through the ages has highlighted the significance of nature in many works. One notices a remarkable change in the portrayal of nature in English literature from the Romantics to the Victorians. Unlike the Romantics, who glorified nature as a benevolent factor in human life, the idea of nature has undergone considerable changes when it is depicted in Victorian poetry. My attempt in this essay is to bring out the significance of nature as it is taken up by Matthew Arnold in “Dover Beach” and Thomas Hardy in “The Darkling Thrush.”

The essay tries to make a close reading into both the poems and make a comparative as well as a contrastive study on the significance of nature in both. One can easily notice the fact that both Arnold and Hardy do not cherish the romantic notion of nature; nature assumes significance in their poems because of its dark negative effects on human life, and rather than showing how nature has influenced man, their poetry try to depict the pessimistic and hopeless world view permeated by nature on the lives of human beings.

In “Dover Beach,” the poet is lured by the beauty and complexity of nature at the beginning of the poem. He is happy that “the sea is calm,” “the tide is full” and that “the moon lies fair”. He is delighted with the vast cliffs and the tranquil bay outside and he even asks his beloved to “come to the window” to have a feel of the sweet night air. He asks his beloved to listen to the “grating roar of the pebbles,” but realizes soon that they bring with them not happiness but “the eternal of sadness.”

For him, he is standing on a “darkling plain” where “ignorant armies clash by night,” not knowing what they do; and the sound of the waves do suggest to him nothing but “the turbid ebb and flow of human misery.” The tone of the poet is of despair and melancholy as he feels that the human life is tormented with miseries, and nature is incapable of offering any solution to man’s problems. On the contrary, nature reflects the human condition where there is no joy, love, light, or comfort during pain.

This wavering aspect of nature is brought out in the poem through the use of the sea as a symbol: a symbol of human faith which was once at high tide, but now one can only hear its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.”

Similarly, Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” also comes across the negative impacts of nature on the individual. His poem is based on his observations of nature and man’s response to her; nevertheless, he does not cherish any lasting optimistic illusions. The poet feels depressed and sad when he experiences the pessimistic gloom roused by the monotonous and lifeless winter scenery. He compares the bare landscape to a skeleton. Words like ‘desolate’, ‘corpse’, ‘cloudy canopy’, ‘death lament’, ‘fervor less’, ‘gloom’, etc suggest this desperate tone of the poet. The poet is unable to find life or meaning in the bleak nature.

The thrush’s song comes as a contrast in the gloomy atmosphere and offers him rays of hope, even in the bleak winter(words like ‘evensong’, ‘full- hearted’ and ‘joy illimited’ suggest this change of tone of the narrator); but he realizes soon that it is “an aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small.” The image of the bird flinging “his soul upon the growing gloom” suggests both hope and desperation. Thus, the first two stanzas of the poem reveal the poet’s troubled view of the world.

Likewise, the imagery of the first two stanzas creates the impression of the dying personified season, winter, whose “dregs made desolate the weakening eye of the day.” Even though the third stanza seems to represent hope, it is short-lived, and one needs to grasp the tragic reality that nature is lifeless. The thrush in the poem symbolizes the dying 19th century and the poet believes that a highly industrialized 20th century will not provide solace to humanity or its problems.

The poem “Dover Beach” begins on a happy note and then progresses towards the dark side of nature whereas “The Darkling Thrush,” as the title suggests begins in a desperate tone and later brings out some rays of hope. Arnold’s view of nature is quite pessimistic as he does not expect nature to provide any sort of solace to man. For him, the world is like “a land of dreams” and remaining true to one another is the only way to find meaning in one’s life.

Arnold’s phrase the ‘darkling plain’ is suggestive of Hardy’s ‘darkling thrush’ as both of them imply the darkness that surrounds humanity. “The Darkling Thrush” offers to the reader hope among despair as the poet changes the desolate and hopeless atmosphere to one of promise and expectation in the third stanza. It is interesting to note that both the poets do cherish a quite unromantic view of nature and the implication of both the poems is that man has to find solutions to his problems on himself. The pantheistic view of nature is neither conceived nor propagated by Victorian poets like Thomas Hardy and Matthew Arnold.

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IvyPanda. "Nature in Arnold’s “Dover Beach” and Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”." August 26, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nature-in-arnolds-dover-beach-and-hardys-the-darkling-thrush/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Nature in Arnold’s “Dover Beach” and Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”." August 26, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nature-in-arnolds-dover-beach-and-hardys-the-darkling-thrush/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Nature in Arnold’s “Dover Beach” and Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”'. 26 August.

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