Explain the following passage from "Dover Beach" in the context of the poem:

"Ah, love, let us be true / 

To one another! for the world, which seems / 

To lie before us like a land of dreams, / 

So various, so beautiful, so new, / 

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / 

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain."

The final stanza of Matthew Arnold's poem “Dover Beach” reflects on the nature of a world without faith. The speaker observes the moonlit sea and uses it as a metaphor for the world's ebbing faith. Without this faith, he says, the world has no joy, love, light, certitude, peace, or “help for pain” (line 34). All that is left is the loyalty between the speaker and his love.

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This quotation is from the final stanza of Matthew Arnold's poem “Dover Beach.” The speaker has been standing at a window observing the sea and cliffs. He remarks, “The sea is calm tonight / The tide is full, the moon lies fair / Upon the straits...” (lines 1–3). He invites his love to join him at the window to smell the sweet night air and watch and listen as the sea spray crashes into the “moon-blanched land” (line 8).

However, as the two stand at the window, the speaker notices something else, “The eternal note of sadness” in the sound of the sea (line 14). His mind turns to metaphor, and he recalls how Sophocles looked at the sea and found an image of “the turbid ebb and flow / Of human misery” (lines 17–18). The speaker then develops his own metaphor. For him, the sea represents the “Sea of Faith” (line 21) that once spread broadly across the world but is now retreating and leaving behind only the “naked shingles of the world” (line 28).

Without faith, there is little left of value in the world, the speaker laments in the final stanza. What seems like a beautiful “land of dreams” (line 31) is only an impersonal material realm with no joy or love, no light or peace, no certitude or “help for pain” (line 34). Without faith, the world loses its meaning. Without faith, the beauty of the world is an empty thing, and the world fills with darkness, ignorance, and “confused alarms of struggle and flight” (line 36). Without faith, the speaker must turn to the only solace he can find: his love. He pleads with her that they might remain true to each other, for in a world emptied of faith and meaning, all they have left is their love.

Indeed, “Dover Beach” approaches despair in its final stanza, yet the speaker, even as he mourns the loss of faith in the world, emphasizes how indispensable that virtue is if those who live in the world will find any joy, love, light, certitude, peace, or help in times of trouble.

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When this poem begins, the speaker seems to be describing the view of the sea at high tide, at night, from Dover Beach, where the French coast is just twenty-two miles away. He describes the literal sound of the waves but then begins to relate them, more abstractly, to "The eternal note of sadness." In the second stanza, the speaker compares "human misery" to the "turbid ebb and flow," suggesting that the sea has functioned as a metaphor for our sorrows since the ancient Greeks, like Sophocles, wrote about it. He describes the "Sea of Faith," religion, as being like the sea as well, ebbing and flowing. Just now, it is "retreating," with a "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar." At the time Arnold was writing, the popularity of religion was waning (or ebbing), and fewer and fewer people found solace from their sorrows in it. This brings us to the final stanza, of which you've quoted a few lines. Perhaps the speaker is talking to his "love" or perhaps he is calling the reader his "love." He says, "let us be true / To one another"; in other words, let us keep faith with each other and comfort each other. The "world" around us may be "beautiful," but it can offer us "neither joy, nor love, nor light / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain"; our only comfort in this life time is to be found in the love of others. Without this love, we are left on "a darkling plain" to struggle, unaided and desperate and alone. In context, then, these lines show that this love between human beings can sustain us now the way faith or religion has in the past.

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