Monday, 7 January 2013

The Dover Bitch (Poem)

The Dover Bitch: A Criticism Of Life

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
the notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As sort of a mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
and finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come,
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour. 

The Dover Bitch is a taunt at the romanticism of Matthew Arnold's poem ' Dover Beach'. He seems to be mocking Arnold's ideas of a last resort love to the woman in the poem. It's a mockery of the Victorian values in 'Dover Beach.'
With the lines 'And then she said one or two unprintable things.' he shows that unlike the women of the 
Victorian age, she was not one to sit quietly and do what is told by her husband. She is portrayed equal to men and her unfaithfulness shows that she is not to just stand by his side for his every beck and call. 

Hecht reinforces his Ideas of change by taking Arnold's "...the cliffs of England stand, glimmering and vast" and transforms the Victorian idea of women into "...cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,". This supports the idea that Hecht is aware of the changes that are happening and he is envious of the way things used to be. In short, Hecht uses the Victorian values shown in Arnold's "Dover Beach" as a comparison to the changes of values of his time. Hecht brings reality to Arnold's romantic poem.
But in reality, Hecht is displaying his views and concerns about changes that have occurred in the value system of his time. Hecht shows an envy of he romantic time potrayed in 'Dover Beach'.

3 comments:

  1. I like the insight that Hecht misses the "woman on a pedestal" whose faithfulness could be counted on, even if only as a semi-solipsistic affirmation with which to compare the less dedicated behavior of us, the men.

    But I think at the same time he is doing an honest, if ironic, criticism of the shallowness of typical modernist "values":

    " And then she got really angry. To have been brought
    All the way down from London, and then be addressed
    As sort of a mournful cosmic last resort
    Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty."

    He reassures us that "she's really all right", as though bitchiness is the only thing to worry about, exemplifying a shallowness in the narrator to match the shallowness of the one insulted by Arnold's condescending reductionism.

    Through the vehicle of the irony of his shallow pair, Hecht is observing that Arnold's overwrought romanticism itself shows a lack of seriousness.

    Victorian perspectives covered up the contradictions between their ideals and their structures based on violence by affirming a kind of other-worldly faith in good intentions. Blown all to hell by Ypres, Verdun and Auschwitz, of course

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  2. The present poem fails to realize what Arnold wishes to recall. Arnold transcends the border of age and land. In it, particularisation has narrowed the border and appears to be a taunt to the grand tone of a serious poem. It is the real tragedy of literature.

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