Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach book cover
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Please explain what "Dover Beach" is all about.

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This poem begins as the speaker is looking out at Dover Beach on the English coast at night with the moon in the sky. He calls his beloved to the window to breathe the night air and to enjoy the view. He hears the endless roar of the waves, which to him is a sound that makes him think of eternal sadness. This in turn makes the speaker think that this was a sound that the ancient Greek dramatist, Sophocles, heard long ago, which can be related to the ebb and flow of human misery. The speaker then talks of the Sea of Faith, a very important metaphor in the poem, which, once full like the tide, is now retreating. He implores his beloved to be true to one another. Although the world in which they live may appear beautiful and fresh, it is actually full of uncertainty and cruelty and pointless conflict. The only consolation that can be found is in love.

It is important to remember that this poem was written during the Victorian period of history, which was plagued by doubts brought about by tremendous scientific advances and the difficulties that they had reconciling those discoveries with traditional religious belief. This poem therefore voices the fear of many that religion was going to be disproved by science, leaving the world a very dark and terrifying place.