For Masterpiece Monday, I discussed Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach.” Today I want to post a witty modern response to that poem called “The Dover Bitch” (1967), written by Anthony Hecht:
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.
This poem pokes fun at “Dover Beach,” by painting Arnold as a boring date. His lover is actually not interested in staring at the sea and lamenting society’s loss of faith with ancient Greek references; she just wants to have sex. The speaker in this poem also has a romantic relationship with this unnamed woman, but it’s strictly casual since they only see other about once a year, and their meetings always result in “a good time.”
Although the speaker uses sexist diction by referring to the woman as just a pretty girl who’s easily bought by wine and perfume, at least he considers her opinion, unlike the man in “Dover Beach,” who’s more interested in mourning the end of the world.
So if you’ve ever read poetry and thought, ‘What a pile of pompous whining,’ then you’ll enjoy “The Dover Bitch.”