One of my favorite songs is “Dover Beach” by Baby Queen, which, through some research, I learned was inspired by Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” Bella Latham, known artistically as Baby Queen, loved the poem when she read it in school and actually visited Dover Beach due to her love for the poem. However, when there, she was so consumed by her unrequited love for another person that she wrote a song while sitting on the beach. When I first read Arnold’s “Dover Beach” for this class, all I could think about was this song, so I wanted to explore a side-by-side comparison of the two.
Both the poem and the song are written from the point of view of someone sitting on Dover Beach, overlooking the “tranquil bay” and “the cliffside” (Arnold Line 5, Latham Line 3). Arnold’s speaker reflects on the sublime nature of the sea, cliffs, and pounding waves, attributing an “eternal note of sadness” that nature instills in him (Arnold Line 14). On that beach, the speaker dreams of how Sophocles looked on similar waves in the Aegean thousands of years ago, pulling this singular moment of experiencing nature into a larger context of the interconnectedness of humanity.
On the other hand, Baby Queen sings about how even when in such a beautiful space that she has wanted to visit forever, she can’t stop thinking and daydreaming about this person she likes. Similar to Arnold’s speaker, the singer cannot appreciate the view in its entirety because “What’s the point in looking at the view? / ‘Cause every time I do, I just see you.” Although it is different than thinking wistfully on Sophocles, both speakers nevertheless are distracted even while in this beautiful landscape.
More similar to Baby Queen’s lyrics, Arnold’s speaker moves from reflecting on the unchanging nature of humanity and his loss of faith due to scientific discovery to thinking about his lover, who is assumed to be his new wife. He pleads “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” (Arnold Lines 29-30). He then rejects the notion that the world is “a land of dreams” and is beautiful and new; instead, he darkly proclaims that the world “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light” (Arnold Line 31, 32). A somber tone takes over, distorting this hope for everlasting love with melancholy views of humanity. In this way, the beauty of nature, which Arnold begins the poem describing in a Romantic way, is overtaken by the more pressing social issues and faults in society.
Likewise, Baby Queen’s self-hatred and hatred for the object of her affections ruins and distorts the beauty of Dover Beach. In the song’s outro, she repeats “I met your ghost, he followed me / Down to the coast of Dover Beach / I scream at you in poetry / You stole the view of Dover Beach.” This crush that only incites pain and sadness corrupts the beauty of nature once again, which corrupts the singer’s perception of Dover Beach. Both speakers are alienated from their surroundings by their own personal strife, leaving the main focus of the poem/song not on the titular feature, Dover Beach, but on the inner thoughts of the speaker.
Additionally, similar to Arnold’s vow to his wife, Baby Queen sings “The world ends, it’s you and me / In my head if we can be together maybe we’ll live forever.” Yet both of them know that this dream is unattainable, either because the world is a dark place or the crush is unrequited. In this way, undying love exists only in each speaker’s head. The speaker’s thoughts become consuming, to the point that it distorts reality and experiences.
I find it really interesting that these two artists, with over 150 years between them, have such similar experiences on Dover Beach. It seems that the exquisite and dangerous nature of the surroundings (with the crashing waves and steep cliff drops) inspires a somber feeling in the viewer. It is also notable how memories and thoughts can become consuming to the point that it can ruin something sublime. Unlike with the Romantics, it seems that here humanity triumphs over nature, at least in the minds of these two individuals.