Dover Beach By Robert Browning | Summary

 Dover Beach (1867): Summary

Arguably Matthews Arnold's most famous peoms, "Dover Beach", published in 1867, manages to comment on his most themes despite its relatively short length. Its message like many of his other poems is that the world's mystery has declined in the face of modernity. However, that decline is here painted as particularly uncertain, dark and volatile. One night, the speaker of Dover Beach sits with a woman inside a house, looking out over the English Channel near the town of Dover, They see the lights on the coast of France just twenty miles away and the sea is quiet and calm.

When the light in France suddenly extinguishes, the speaker focuses on the English side, which remains tranquil. He trades visual imagery for aural imagery, describing the 'grating roar' of the pebbles being pulled out by the waves. He finishes the first stanza by calling the music of the world an 'eternal note of sadness.' The next stanza flashes back to ancient Greece, where Sophocles heard this same sound on the Aegean Sea and was insipired by it to write his plays about human misery.

Stanza three introduces the poem's main metaphor, with: "The Sea of Faith/Was once, too, at the full, and round Earth's shore." The Phrases suggests that faith is fading from society like the tide is from the shore. The speaker laments this decline of faith through melancholy diction. In the final stanza, the speaker directly addresses his beloved who sits next to him, asking that they always be true to one another and to the world that is laid out before them. He warns, however, that the world beauty is only an illusion, since it is in fact a battlefield full of people fighting in absolute darkness.

What also makes the poem particularly powerful is lite that his romantic streak has almost no tinge of the religious. Instead, he speaks of the Sea of Faith' without linking it to any deity or heaven. This "faith' has a definite humanist tinge- it seems to have once guided decisions and smoothed over the world' problems, tying everyone together in a meaningful way. It is no accident that the sight inspiring such reflection is that of untouched nature, almost entirely absent from any human involvement. In fact, the speaker's true reflection begins once the only sign of life the light over France extinguishes. What Arnold is expressing is an innate quality, a natural drive towards beauty.