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Dover Beach Poem by Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach is Matthew Arnold’s most popular poem. It was written in the year 1867, only a few weeks after he got married and the poem is written addressing his wife. It could be assumed that Arnold compiled the poem white sitting on the shores of Dover Beach while looking out to the sea with pebbles scattered across the shore.

Dover Beach Poem by Matthew Arnold
Dover Beach Poem by Matthew Arnold

This poem describes his battle with love, life and faith in his religion. He narrates a story, through this poem, trying to talk to his wife about their relationship and what he thinks love should be, using the sea and the waves to support his depiction.

Throughout this poem, there is a sense of series of metaphors merging together. It is noticeable from the first line, “The Sea of Faith,” which refers to the faith and appreciation that people put in nature and themselves. So when the poet writes that the sea of faith too, was once at the full, he means to say that people had a lot of devotion in themselves and in nature but we don’t anymore.

The second stanza is an indication to the past. Arnold’ uses “Sophocles”, an ancient Greek philosopher, to illustrate that the people, for a long time contemplated about an evaluation between sea and human misery.

The third stanza is where Arnold points out a contrast between the tide of the sea and his own personal faith using imagery. The tide of the sea symbolizes the unsympathetic world.

The fourth stanza is where the poem discovers both, a considerate as well as a hasty mood. Arnold speaks to his wife in the lines, “Ah, love, let us be true to one another!” Through these lines he exemplifies his profound love for her and requests her to be faithful to him, saying that for the sake of their marriage they need to be faithful to the other

To a particular extent, human beings are inferior to nature and the spiritual beliefs. The desertion of the doctrine of religion with the help of Industrial Revolution is only an ineffective act against the power overwhelming nature. Spirituality and faith should remain in humanity, so paying no heed to it would result in the ambiguity and vulnerability of modern man.

The poem continues explaining a battle worth fighting, for what one accepts as the truth, whether you think of the poem about love and the wife of Matthew Arnold, or whether as a poem signifying the ongoing religious dilemma of that time period. In the end, the only person you can count on is yourself and the one you love. All the mortals live in this world in a dark state of mind and the struggle for survival is no less different from ignorant armies that fight throughout the night.

Text of Dover Beach Poem

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
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
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.