AP English Literature and Composition A
29 September 2018
Critical Analysis: Comparing Poetry
The meanings of poems are not to be always taken literally. They are hidden in between words and deeper meanings; however, they can be uncovered by understanding themes and tones. The poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold and “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell have different tones and themes.
“Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold reflects on the thoughts of the speaker as he looks at a beach. The first stanza is the speaker looking onto the sea and taking the sea in. He feels the calmness of the sea and the tranquility of the bay. He then tells his partner to listen to the sound of the waves. He says that the sound reflects sadness. He then brings the story to ancient Greece by claiming that the waves of Aegean reminded Sophocles of human misery. In addition, the speaker compares faith to the sea and how the world was once filled it with it just like how the sea fills the shore for a short time. He says that now he can only hear the sadness. This is being compared to the lack of faith that was going on during the poet’s time. The poem finishes with the speaker telling his partner that they should remain faithful to each other in such a cruel and faithless world.
The poem “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell has the speaker addressing his mistress. He begins to tell her that if they had enough time, he would cherish her body for many years. It would also be okay for her to reject his advances for there would be no problem with time. He then goes on to tell her that there is such thing as time and their end will approach quickly. Because of time, they will grow and old and she will lose her beauty. He bluntly tells her that she will die a virgin. The speaker attempts at persuading her to accept his advances while they are still young. He claims that this is the only way that they can beat time before it beats them.
The tones in “Dover Beach” and “To His Coy Mistress” are different from each other. In “Dover Beach”, the tone is lonely. He describes the lights gleaming and disappearing and the view of the vast cliffs. He also explains how the waves retreat and leaving “naked shingles” in its wake. His description leaves a sense of loneliness. Matthew Arnold ends the poem by describing the speaker’s and his partners lonely state in the dark world:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
In contrast, “To His Coy Mistress” takes on a few various tones. He begins with a romantic tone as he describes how he will worship his mistress if only they had time. It then changes into a slightly darker tone when the speaker says, “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near” (Marvell 21). The tone changes once again as he convinces her to embrace what time they do have together. It becomes obvious that the speaker is lusting after the women with the simile “amorous birds of prey” (Marvell 38).
The themes in the poems are also different. The theme in “Dover Beach” revolves around faith and how easy it is to lose it. The speaker says, “The Sea of Faith / Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore” (Arnold 21). He describes how there was once an abundance of faith just how there was water surround Earth’s shores. That same faith dwindled just how water leaves the shore. In addition, he tells his partner that they should remain faithful to one another in such a cruel and faithless world. On the other hand, the theme in “To His Coy Mistress” is to make the most of your time. He uses the theme to convince his mistress to be with him. He says that he would spend his time loving his mistress if only there was enough of it. But there is not enough time in the world, so they should make the most of what time they have together.
The poems “Dover Beach” and “To His Coy Mistress” differ in tones and themes. While one is more melancholy, the other is more upbeat and lustful. The former centers its theme on faith while the latter is about making the most of the time that is available. Both poems have different meanings that are appreciated on their own.
Arnold, Matthew. “Dover Beach.” Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588-dover-beach. Accessed 29 September 2018.
Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress.” Pearson OBL AP English Literature and Composition. Accessed 29 September 2018.