Essay on Dover Beach
Before we can discuss Matthew Arnold’s "Dover Beach", a brief biography of Arnold will help our understanding of the poem. Matthew Arnold had intentions of marrying Fancy Lucy Wightman, despite the fact that her father disapproved. Wightman’s father was vocal in his objections to the marriage, insisting the two end their romance and cancel their wedding plans (Furr 75). Arnold wrote "Dover Beach", drawing from his own experience as a man with a lost love. The beauty and tranquility contrasts with the under current of something lost. Arnold presents the sea as a changing symbol of calmness, sadness, and faith to express his emotions.
In the beginning of "Dover Beach" Arnold describes a night in which the gleam of the moonlight shimmers across the bay. The sea symbolizes being peaceful and calm. The imagery Arnold has put in our minds is all of beautiful scenery. He uses imagery to create the mood so that the point he is trying to portray can be better understood.
The sea changes to a symbol of sadness as the poem progresses. Arnold’s mind is set in the tone of human misery. This is shown through the contrast of the actions of the moon, which "lies fair" (2) to that of the pebbles and waves he refers to now that angrily pound the beach. He mentions that the shore brings the "eternal note of sadness in". Arnold’s background and culture leads him to refer to the classical Greek writer of Tradegy's, Sophocles. He is reminded of his own time and can hear the human misery that surrounds him through the sea.
Last, the sea becomes a symbol of faith. Arnold shows that faith has died when he refers to the once full, but now receding tide and what he calls the "Sea of Faith"(20). The key word is once because it implies that he used to look at the sea in a different way (in the first stanza, for example, the sea was peaceful) than what he does now(which is as lost faith). In the last stanza he is speaking directly to his love. He presents the idea that he and his love must comfort and remain faithful to one another because each other is all they really have. In reality he is expressing that nothing is certain, because when there is darkness there is light and when there is sadness there is happiness. In a world barren on faith, only fidelity and love lend a man some kind of support and meaning in life.
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