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The poem ‘Dover Beach’ by Mathew Arnold conveys the upsetting views of the poet that the world is turning its back on religion. Told mostly in first person perspective, we see a change in the speaker’s perception from seeing the world as soothing and hopeful but his thoughts turn to disgust and hopelessness. Arnold does this by using an extended metaphor littered with strong imagery and sensual sounds. The first stanza of the poem introduces the soothing setting of Dover Beach on the English coast. The poet describes the sea as “calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair”, lines which set the reader at ease and gently let us feel the beauty of this scene. When we read on to the second stanza we hear “the grating roar of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling”. This more aggressive line indicates that the sea that was acting so peacefully is now turning violent. The sound of the waves is described as “the eternal note of sadness”. We really get the feeling that the poet is disturbed by these sounds in the poem. His disgust at this ‘sea change’ is evident in the third stanza when he describes “human misery” as a “turbid ebb and flow”.
The ebbing and flowing of the sea seems to be disturbing the speaker’s mind to the point that the upset can be heard on the “distant northern sea”. As if this storm were a disease, it is spreading far and wide and reducing the speaker’s hope that the sea may return to its calm state. In stanza four, the central extended metaphor is released by the line “The Sea of Faith”. In this metaphor the ‘sea’ mimics the general peace felt around the world in a time when morals were important and there was a reliance on God for guidance. Now that the sea is becoming violent, the speaker seems to become disgusted by the sights around him.
No longer is “bright girdle” around his faith helping him feel secure, as it has been replaced by a “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar”. As the tide retreats back to the ocean, so does the speaker’s hope that it will ever return. Arnold here is lamenting the decline in religious importance in this new changing world. To further concrete his feelings of disgust and hopelessness, the speaker communicates to his love that the land they saw ahead of them “like a land of dreams” now is devoid of all goodness: “neither joy, nor love, nor light…
” The repetition of the word “nor” is a constant reminder of what the world is now losing because of this storm. Arnold believes that to exist in the world now, one must strive to survive with no direction or aims, having lost all faith and hope in human kind. He describes the world as devoid light “a darling plain”, possibly representing the darkening of the light of God, and replaces it with “confused alarms of struggle and flight.
” These words strike up images of scared faces, paranoid encounters and general unease. He releases his final breaths of disgust as he unleashes the “ignorant armies [who] clash by night”. Ignorant hear indicates the loss of knowledge, education and peace in the world as now people fight not for a cause, but for themselves. The extended metaphor here brings about a complete annihilation of the speaker’s aspirations of the sea ever returning to the peace and tranquillity experienced in the first stanza.
Striking imagery and startling sounds call forth the comparable destruction of Arnold’s religious beliefs that only seemed to make sense when incorporated into a communal religious belief. The disgust and hopelessness that Arnold now feels for the world is characterized by the tide retreating leaving nothing but darkness and misery.