Dover Beach Poem Analysis | Critical appreciation or theme on the poem “Dover Beach”


A lot of students have asked to write about dover beach poem analysis. So today I am going to discuss about the theme or analysis/critical of the poem “Dover Beach”, Hope you will enjoy my writings. Read below.

Dover Beach poem by Matthew Arnold is the most famous poem which is generally considered one of the most important poem of the 19th century. It is undoubtedly a famous lyric poem and full of melancholy. An elegiac note runs through the poem. The main theme of this poem is that the lack of religious faith and development of doubt and disbelief.

Dover Beach poem starts with a pictorial description of the seascape at Dover. The time is night. The sea remains calm. In the high tide water level has risen to the maximum. The full moon’s reflection in the strait of Dover, looks beautiful. Textual reference is evident here to clear the idea:

“The sea is calm to-night

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits on the French Coast”

In this stanza, the poet invites his beloved to the window to enjoy the charming atmosphere of night.

why does mathew arnold mention sophocles in this excerpt from dover beach poem?

The second stanza of the poem Dover Beach , Arnold invokes Sophocles who was a famous Greek playwright and had a parallel knowledge of listening to the sound of the Ocean waves and he too found the note of melancholy in that sound.

dover beach poem analysis

The sound reminded him of all the wild disorder and misery that exist in human life. Of course, Sophocles heard the sound of the waves of the Aegean sea while Arnold hears the sound of the waves of the English Channel. Arnold says in the following ways:

“Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Aegean and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of misery”

In the third stanza, the poet says that there was a time when the sea of religious faith lifted and moved with great power. The poet means that there was a time when religious faith held powerful influence over men’s minds.

According to the poet, the past religious faith was full, but now doubt and disbelief have taken place in the human society. The sea of faith was at the full in the past. But now its waves are moving back only. The poet says in this poem:

“The sea of faith

Was once, too, at the full and round earth shore

Lay like the fold of a bright girdle furled”

In the fourth stanza, the poet compares the modern world devoid of faith and spiritual consolation to a darkling plain. It is a world shrouded in darkness and wild confusion. Here the poet compares men without faith and love to ignorant armies clashing by night. He says in the following ways:

“And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight

Where ignorant armies clash by night”

The famous smile in the final lines probably allude to a passage in ‘Thucydides’ account of the battle of Epipolae. Here are to be found the details used by Arnold; a night-attack fought upon a plain at the top of cliff in the moonlight, so that the soldiers could not distinguish clearly between friend and foe, with the resulting flight of certain Athenian troops.

John Henry Newman had used the image once to define controversary as a short of “night battle” and the image also occurs in Arthur Huge Clough’s “The bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich”

However, the dover beach poem is a love poem. It’s theme is love. It was written on the occasion of honeymoon trip to Dover Beach which presents beautiful natural scenery.

The poet asks his beloved to see the beautiful sight and hear the sweet sounds of advancing and retreating waves. He finds love as the only shelter and support in the confusing welter of doubts and faiths in the Victorian age.

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