April 2nd, 2008
The poem “Dover Beach” is a lyric poem written by an English poet Matthew Arnold during the Victorian Era. The poem is separated into 4 stanzas of unequal length. The rhyme is irregular in the poem, and no set meter is used. The poem is written by Arnold on his honeymoon, presumably on Dover Beach. The poem shows the author’s loss of faith, and shows Arnold concern over the English culture.
In the first stanza, Arnold starts by creating images of confidence and beauty. The speaker starts the poem saying “the sea is calm tonight.” The speaker is looking towards the sea, which gives him a sense of calmness. The speaker continues to illustrate the great beauty he sees, seeing the “cliffs or England stand glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.” Arnold uses the first few lines of the poem to draw the audience into the wonders of the beach, conveying its beauty. Although the euphonious sounds of the first lines make the beach sound wonderful, the audience is lulled into a sense of sadness and dullness. The speaker calls out to his “love” to observe with him the “long line of spray.” As they stand by the window, the boundaries hold them in. Within the window, it seems that everything is serene and tranquil. But the “grating roar of pebbles” shatters the illusion of tranquility. Arnold uses the dissonant sounds of the grating to pull the reader out the beautiful moonlit beach. The waves begin to bring the “eternal note of sadness in.”
The second stanza brings in the literary allusion of Sophocles, and how he also heard the eternal note of sadness “on the Aegean.” The speaker also knows that Sophocles has experienced the “turbid ebb and flow of human misery.” The speaker begins to show that he is truly miserable, and yet the reader does not know for what reason.
The third stanza begins with a metaphorical “Sea of Faith,” that was “once, too, at the full and round earth’s shore.” The speaker uses the metaphor to show that he once had faith, but now the faith is receding, like the waves of the sea. The speaker compares his faith to the tides of the sea, and now he only hears its “melancholy, long withdrawing roars.” All alone, the loss of faith leaves the speaker naked, and hopeless.
The final stanza ends the poem with the speaker calling out to his love. Without his faith to rely on, the speaker makes a final attempt at love, telling it to “be true to one another!” The speaker has no more hope left in the world, seeing the faith of everybody begin and cease. The speaker acknowledges the world as a “land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new.” Yet the speaker knows the world has “neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.” Everything is devoid in the world, and the loss of faith is further expressed as the speaker feels truly hopeless. The poem ends with the speaker being “swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, here ignorant armies clash by night.” The couplet that ends the poem offers a little bit of relief from the harsh sounds of the poem. But the rhyme and juxtaposition of the couplet is not enough to compensate for the chaos of the poem. The speaker acknowledges the world that he is in, and that he too will be swept away into the tides of ignorance.