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The sound of the tide, the "grating roar of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling" back up onto the beach as the waves rush up the shoreline and then retreat, creates many interrelated emotions in the narrator.
The most general overall description of the emotion being felt refers to "the eternal note of sadness." In the sound of the tides endlessly washing back and forth, the speaker imagines he hears the age-old patterns "of human misery." The rocks are unceasingly thrown onto the beach and then washed back into the sea; there is no respite from the battle taking place between the rocky ground and the power of the moving water.
In this ongoing conflict, the speaker hears the loss of tranquility that the "Sea of Faith" had once transmitted to the world. All that is left, in the narrator's impression of the sound of the waves, is the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of the world as the "land of dreams" that once existed is washed away and destroyed by the inescapable power of the wind and water.
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