English AP (7) – VanLehn Christopher Schmidt
Dover – Reflection December 17, 2001
"Dover Beach" was a free verse poem written in the late 1800’s by Matthew Arnold. Although writing at the end of the romantic period, Arnold choose to style his poetry in a more modernistic style, following the "form" of free verse rather than the more conventional styling of poetry common at the time. Andrew Hecht wrote "The Dover Bitch", a parody of the famous "Dover Beach" poem. In "Bitch", Hecht pokes fun at Arnold’s free verse style, his hypocritical attitude, and his flippant manner of leaving the female in his poem in the background while the main character expounds upon the loss of love in the world. All these make "The Dover Bitch" a well written literary criticism despite its obvious status as a parody of the original.
Arnold was a writer at the end of the Romantic period, when the modern style of literary writing was only beginning to take hold. He was one of the first writers to use free verse in his poetry, a major step that began the migration away from Romantic literature into the more modern literature of his future. Hecht wrote his poem many years later however, and this results in a large distance between their viewpoints. While Arnold feels free verse is a new and more expressive way of pronouncing his opinion, Hecht merely considers it to be run of the mill drollery. Hecht feels comfortable creating pauses and line breaks where they don’t make sense in an effort to bring forward the casual flow of "Dover Beach." Although "Bitch" takes the effect to the extreme, in "Beach" such lines as "Sophocles long ago" are incomplete and hold little flow. This is the point that Hecht seeks to point out in his parody by ending every line in a seemingly random place. One example of this is on line 6, where Hecht writes, "…It’s true she had read," to end a line. This incomplete thought is supposed to be exemplifying the lack of flow in "Dover Beach" by pointing out to readers what happens when a writer does not incorporate the flow or rhythm of a poem into it’s creation.
Hecht feels that the author of "Dover Beach" is hypocritical in his writings of the loss of love in the world because of the way the narrator of the poem treats his lover. To show the peculiar treatment of the woman in "Beach", the man in "Bitch" is treated the same way. With the gender roles reversed, however, the story takes a strange twist. Readers feel that there is unfairness related to the story because the man is left behind while the "Bitch" of the story is allowed to have all the power in the relationship. Hecht says that she says "unprintable things" and that "…perhaps it’s a year before I see her again…," indicating that this is not a steady relationship. In "Beach" the same type of situation exists, but because of the opposite gender orientation, the reader of the poem does not notice. There is no wrong in the command to "Come to the window!" or any feelings of anger over the fact that while the narrator is saying "Love, let us be true" he is doing the exact opposite by merely expounding upon the world around him. The gender roles in "Dover Beach" allow Arnold to have his narrator be an overbearing man while still showing that there is a female there. However, Heicht’s role switch points out the prominence of this theme in "Dover Beach" by making the reader realize that there is hypocrisy in the poem through his own use of hypocritical behavior based in the opposite direction.