Dover Beach: Tone, Central Idea, and Figures of Speech


Introduction: Here, we have attempted to analyze the tone of one of the most important works of Matthew Arnold. Matthew Arnold was an English poet and cultural critic who considered poetry to be a “Criticism of Life”.The tone of “Dover Beach” is predominantly melancholic and to a certain extent even tragic.


The predominant mood of despair and gloom pervades throughout the poem. Although the poem  Dover Beach Poem begins with an enthralling image of the tranquil sea, Arnold doesn’t fail to observe and evoke the “eternal note of sadness” in human life caused by the waning faith in God and religion. Arnold pictures the “turbid ebb and flow/ Of human misery” and compares his vision to that of Sophocles who observed the misery and suffering in human life. This allusion introduces the keynote of a hopeless world taken over by the ravages of war. The sea is compared to faith. Just like the retreating sea, the spiritual and religious faith of human beings is receding. Arnold anticipates a collapse of morals, harmony, and peace in a society that has stopped believing. This thought is indicated throughout the poem and is enhanced by the sorrowful expression ‘Ah’ towards the end. In this mood of the fearful anticipation, the poet visualizes the world as a dark battlefield where everyone is fighting on “confused alarms”, leaving no place for hope and love.

The auditory images like “ grating roar”, “tremulous cadence” add to the sad, desperate and hopeless image of the world. They represent the desperate screams of people suffering from pain and misery and a desire to escape. Adding to the mood of lamentation, regret, and sorrow, the poem Dover Beach Poem ends on a frightening note that is in sharp contrast to the harmonious mood created at the beginning of the poem. However, this gloomy mood persisting throughout the poem is made lighter as the poem seeks love and comfort to survive in this cruel world.

Central Idea-

In this poem Dover Beach Poem, Arnold expresses his grief and lament for the rapid and inevitable decline in religious faith in the mid-1800s. Arnold mourns a society that has lost its cultural, moral and spiritual significance, giving rise to cruelty, deception, uncertainty, and hopelessness. After providing the reads with a vivid graphical impression of the sea, the poet presents the grieving aspect of the declining faith in God and religion through the symbol of the sea. The religious and spiritual faith that was once glorified has started to lose its luster.

In such a phase of futility, Arnold expresses the belief that only true love can succeed in giving the petty, Godless world a meaning. He seeks the comfort of love and urges the lovers to support each other through thick and thin. Love is the ultimate solace in a world taken over by fear, anger, uncertainty, and pain. The concluding line, however, stresses on the horror and brutality persisting in the world, depriving people of joy and harmony. The loss of faith has made human civilization numb.

Title: Dover Beach Figures of Speech by Matthew Arnold

Introduction: Matthew Arnold succeeds in beautifying the language of the poem “Dover Beach” by incorporating a number of figures of speech, namely, metaphor, simile, alliteration, pathetic fallacy, allusion, and anaphora. Here, we have attempted to identify the different figures of speech employed in the poem.

1. Metaphor:

It is a figure of speech in which a comparison between two different things is implied but not clearly stated. In this poem Dover Beach Poem, faith is compared to the sea. Here, high tide is compared to the unbreakable faith that people had in God and religion and the ebbing of sea waves are compared to the collapsing spiritual and religious faith. The “sea of faith” that was once in its full tide is now withdrawing, leaving people alone in this dreary, cruel world.

2. Simile:

A figure of speech in which a similarity between two different things is clearly stated, using the words ‘as’ or ‘like’, is called a simile. A beautiful representation of a simile is seen in the way religious and spiritual faith is compared to a girdle furled round the waist of a person- “ like the folds of a bright girdle furled”. Like the girdle, faith also embraced human civilization and protected it from evil aspects of the world.

3. Alliteration:

The repetition of consonant sounds in a sentence is called alliteration. It is seen in the lines: “ Ah, love, let us be true”, “To lie before us like a land of dreams”.

4. Allusion:

It is a reference to other cultures or works in either prose or poetry. Allusions to mythology, religious epics, sacred texts, and classical literature are the most common. The allusion to the ancient Greek tragedian, Sophocles, enhances the sense of melancholy and sorrow in the poem. Sophocles heard the sound of the waves on the Aegean sea that reminded him of the ebb and flow of human misery. Similarly, the speaker in the poem is also distressed by the realization of human suffering.

5. Anaphora:

It is a figure of speech in which words or phrases are repeated at the beginning of each sentence, paragraphs or stanzas in a sequence. This figure of speech is seen in the lines: “So various, so beautiful, so new” and “ …neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain”.

6. Pathetic Fallacy:

It is a figure of speech in which objects are attributed to human emotions. This is observed in the poem Dover Beach Poem when the continuous and endless movement of the sea waves, that sucks and flings back pebbles, is attributed with an “eternal note of sadness” that can be experienced by humans.

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