Faith and Beliefs in a poem Dover Beach

The poem ‘Dover Beach’ by Mathew Arnold communicates the disturbing views of the poet that the world is turning its back on religious beliefs. Informed mostly in first person viewpoint, we see a change in the speaker’s perception from seeing the world as soothing and hopeful however his thoughts turn to disgust and despondence. Arnold does this by using an extended metaphor cluttered with strong imagery and sensual noises. The first stanza of the poem presents the relaxing setting of Dover Beach on the English coast.

The poet explains the sea as “calm to-night.

The tide is complete, the moon lies reasonable”, lines which set the reader at ease and gently let us feel the beauty of this scene. When we continue reading to the 2nd verse we hear “the grating holler of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling”. This more aggressive line indicates that the sea that was acting so in harmony is now turning violent. The noise of the waves is referred to as “the eternal note of sadness”.

We really get the feeling that the poet is interrupted by these sounds in the poem. His disgust at this ‘total change’ appears in the 3rd verse when he describes “human torment” as a “turbid ups and downs”.

The ebbing and streaming of the sea appears to be disturbing the speaker’s mind to the point that the upset can be heard on the “remote northern sea”. As if this storm were an illness, it is spreading out everywhere and minimizing the speaker’s hope that the sea may go back to its calm state.

In stanza 4, the central extended metaphor is launched 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 was essential and there was a reliance on God for assistance. Now that the sea is becoming violent, the speaker seems to become disgusted by the sights around him.

No longer is “intense girdle” around his faith helping him feel secure, as it has actually been changed by a “melancholy, long, withdrawing holler”. 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 spiritual value in this new changing world. To even more concrete his sensations 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 pleasure, 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.