Table of Contents
Introduction to the Poem:
“Dover Beach” is certainly one of the best and most representative poems of Matthew Arnold. It gives a clear picture of the poet and his mind. It has a melancholy strain that is characteristic of Arnold. Judging the poem as a whole, it is an ode that tells us that life is purposeless without religious faith. According to Matthew Arnold, without religious faith, love, and friendship among human beings, the world can have neither joy nor beauty. Happiness can be found only in constant and true love.
Central Idea of the Poem:
Loss of religious faith in the world makes the poet sad. He feels sadder when he finds doubt and fears growing stronger as a consequence of religious decay. A world where people lack faith in God and religion cannot experience peace and harmony. Such a world is like an infertile seacoast. Faith in God and religious values give purpose and meaning to human life, while the decay of religious faith makes human life devoid of purpose and significance. Sadly, the impact of the development of science has given rise to confusion, insecurity, and uncertainty. According to Mathew Arnol, faith in God, religious values and humanity alone can make life interesting and worth living. True and sincere love coupled with friendliness alone can dispel all doubts, fears, and confusion from our minds and make us happy.
Complete Paraphrase of the Poem:
The sea near Dover is calm tonight. The tide in the ocean is full. The Straits of Dover looks beautiful as it is covered with moonlight. The light shines and soon it vanishes from the French Coast. The English rocks are dimly lighted.
Come to the window. The night air is pleasant here. A line of spray is formed where the waves come in touch with the sand. The sand becomes white under the moonlight. From here the poet’s beloved can hear the harsh sound of the small, round stones. These stones are swept back to the sea by the receding waves. The advancing waves scatter these pebbles against the high beach. The waves advance, withdraw and advance again with a slow rhythmic movement and produce a continuously sad sound.
In the past, Sophocles (the famous Greek dramatist) heard the same sad sound of waves on the Aegean ocean near Greece. This sad sound reminded him of the confusion, distress, gloom, and sorrow that prevailed among human beings. The poet and his beloved are hearing the same sad and tragic sound today from the waves on the English Channel in the north of the Aegean sea. We (the poet and his beloved or the people of England during Arnold’s time) also find the Sophoclian sadness around us in this tragic sound.
In ancient times, the sea of faith was at high tide. The high tide had surrounded the whole world like the coils of a bright and closed belt. But now the poet hears the sad sound of its waves. The waves leave behind fear, confusion, and spiritual doubt. The world today is as purposeless, infertile, and meaningless as a beach covered with pebbles and shingles.
Ah, my beloved, let us be true to each other in our love and friendship. This world looks to be beautiful and full of happy dreams. It looks very charming, new, and full of variety. But it is without real love, hope, peace, certainty, and relief. People, devoid of faith in God and religion, are like stupid and ignorant soldiers on a dark plain ringing with conflicting signals of struggle. These soldiers go on fighting in the darkness without knowing why they fight. Sometimes they are killing their own men without knowing the reasons for doing that.
Complete Summary of the Poem:
The poet, Matthew Arnold, stands by the seashore at Dover. He observes the sea and the atmosphere around. It is night. He finds perfect calm in the atmosphere. The sea too is calm. The sky is clear and starry. The light of the moon falls brilliantly over the straits of Dover. The moonbeams dance over the bosom of the sea. When the moon changes her position in the sky, the light falling on the shore becomes dim. The hills of England shine faintly at a long distance. Now when the moon is shining in all her beauty, the poet asks his beloved to come to the window to share with him the joy of observing the calm sight of the sea and the sweet air of the night.
Soon the poet hears a slow but harsh sound which is produced by the process of pebbles being thrown in and out by the sea waves. The slow and monotonous sound brings feelings of sadness. The poet declares that the waves near the beach produce eternal sadness.
The poet is then reminded of Sophocles, the great Greek tragedian. When Sophocles heard the terrible and moaning sound of the sea waves, as they struck against the shore of the Aegean Sea, his mind was filled with thoughts about the sufferings of human beings. Arnold believes that his beloved would also be able to share the same feelings and ideas.
Matthew Arnold compares the sea to the Sea of Faith. He believes that the absence of faith in the modern age of science and machinery accounts for human suffering. In the past, the Sea of Faith encircled the earth as the sea-shore does even today. The Sea of Faith adorned the earth like a girdle. But now advancement in science has led to a religious decline.
People in modern times have become materialistic and worldly-minded to a fault. Hence they are sad, miserable, and unhappy. The retiring waves of faith have left shingles of doubt. The pebbles on the sea shore symbolize, skepticism, confusion, and doubt.
But the poet does not lose heart. He finds solace in true love. He asks his beloved to be faithful in love. Only true love can give lasting happiness to people. The prosperity bestowed on modern people by science is nothing but an illusion of happiness. The world has lost real happiness and consolation due to a lack of faith in religion and God. Today, people are like soldiers who are forced to fight in darkness without knowing the purpose of the battle. Human beings do not know with whom they are fighting. They do not know what for they are wasting their energy. The absence of faith has led to feelings of confusion and fears hostile to a peaceful and happy life.
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Read More About Dover Beach– Wikipedia