Sei sulla pagina 1di 2

Abby Broadhurst

AP Literature
October 8, 2013
Mrs. Flather

Analysis of “Dover Beach”

In Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” the speaker bemoans the loss of religion in the

world as the introduction of technology and the industrial revolution has taken precedent and has

prompted a decline in overall human happiness. While the poem does not follow a typical rhyme

scheme, the message is clear. Through a despairing tone and repeated dark water imagery, Arnold

establishes a clearly reflective and melancholic tone.

The first stanza introduces the scene as fairly calm and pleasant. Calling to his beloved, the

speaker states that “the tide is full” and “the moon lies fair.” The positive connotation of

incorporated words such as “fair,” “glimmering,” and “sweet” give the impression that the poem is

going to be relatively pleasant. However, there is a shift in the second stanza which begins with

“only.” He then calls for his beloved to listen as he can hear “the grating roar” of the ocean moving

the pebbles on the shore. The onomatopoeia evident in the word “grating,” along with its

cacophonous effect introduce the depressing thoughts of the speaker that follow. Cleverly

intertwining syntax to mimic the ebb and flow of the waves, the speaker notes how the waves’

movements “begin, and cease, and then again begin.” He even states that an “eternal note of

sadness” can be heard on the waves, thus clearly establishing a new tone. While it is not yet clear

what has caused this sadness, Arnold continues to explain his ideas in the following stanzas.

The third stanza opens with an allusion to Sophocles, a man many consider to be one of the

great tragic poets. In referencing Sophocles, the speaker seems to be trying to highlight his belief

that the world has become as tragic as those stories which Sophocles often wrote. It is clear that the

reason of this sadness is about to be exposed as Arnold once again transitions, stating that Sophocles

found “in the sound [of the sea] a thought.” He continues this idea in the fourth stanza, highlighting
how “the Sea of Faith,” which once held a firm grasp on humankind, is now “retreating” with a

“melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” Once again, the syntax is mimicking the waves as Arnold

repeatedly uses water imagery to depict his understanding of the receding impact of religion, the

“Sea of Faith” on the world. The speaker is clearly upset by the recession of religion as he declares

that religion has left the “naked shingles of the world.” Clearly, the speaker believes the world to be

empty without religion as the seashores have been left “naked,” abandoned by the “Sea of Faith”

which used to enfold them.

The final stanza completes the speaker’s despairing thoughts as he implores his beloved that

they “be true to one another!” His certainty that the world is a darker place without religion is

evident when he states that the world, which initially seems “like a land of dreams,” in truth has

“neither joy, nor love, nor light.” This immediate juxtaposition between what one would expect and

the reality of the world which the speaker perceives highlights the extent of the speaker’s sorrow. As

he observes the world and its changes, he is distressed by the impact that changes such as technology

have wrought on the world. The final three lines of the poem incorporate strong negative imagery as

Arnold includes words such as “darkling,” “struggle,” “flight,” and “night,” all of which have a

pessimistic connotation.

Throughout the poem, Arnold uses an extended metaphor in which the sea is truly symbolic

of the “Sea of Faith” mentioned in the end of the poem. The stark contrast in tone from the first

stanza to the following stanzas reflects the idea of change such as that which the speaker regrets

noticing in the world. The negativity of the speaker’s thoughts is apparent in the elements Arnold

integrates into the poem. The dark sea imagery, the negative connotations, the long drawn out

syntax, and the juxtaposition of a few positive thoughts to overwhelming despair all contribute to the

overall melancholic tone and attribute to the understanding that, while the world gained industry, it

also lost religion and the necessary spiritual guidance that religion had provided to humankind.

Without religion, the world is a darker and more hopeless place.