In Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach", what does the speaker urge in the last stanza, and why?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" speaks of faith—specifically of Christianity—and the world moving away from its faith. The last stanza of the poem reads:

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;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The speaker is inside a room, "perhaps in an inn," with the woman he loves. They are looking out the window and taking in this shoreline of Dover, in England. There are lights and sound: the ocean is there. The sight of the sea moves the speaker as he compares it to Christianity—at least the way Christianity used to be: powerful, immovable, and surrounding everything. However, the poet notes that he no longer sees Christianity have the same "reach" with people—the same importance in their lives.

So when the speaker reaches the end of the poem, he first urges this woman he loves to hold fast to himas he will to her—in faithfulness and loyalty. It is because the world has changed so much that he feels they must depend on each other, and there is a sense of sadness to this, as if there is no one else they can turn to, at least in this world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another!

He explains that while the world outside the window looks wonderful...a place of dreams...

...for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new...

...is not as it appears. It does not have the promise that they think they see, or imagine is there. This is because what the world once believed in—what has kept the speaker grounded (his faith)—seems to no longer encircle the world, as the sea does. People have let it go. Beneath the things they see, is the reality that the goodness is gone, and things come to threaten them which may not be readily seen—covered by the shallow beauty of what lies before their eyes.

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

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

The man explains that because faith in God (i.e., the importance of a life steeped in faith) is no longer what it once was, life holds no real joy, love, light, certainty—conviction—peace, or even the hope for delivery from pain (sin).

What remains behind—in the absence of faith—threatens his love (and others, we can assume). The world is a dark place because the light that should guide them ("light" in the Bible refers to Christ) has been forgotten, and there is nothing to show them the way. There is struggling, fighting and confusion because so many are lost: because so many have turned their backs on God. The author is left (and leaves the reader) with a sense of hopelessness, fear and sadness.

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Sources:

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