How do the noise and the movement of the "pebbles" mentioned in the first stanza relate to the idea of the loss of faith described in the rest of the poem? the answers can also relate to the "shingles" in the third stanza.
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Listen! you hear the grating roarOf pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,At their return, up the high strand,Begin, and cease, and then again begin,With tremulous cadence slow, and bringThe eternal note of sadness in.
Loss of faith is indeed a prominent theme in "Dover Beach." Though its complexion grows darkest in the final stanzas, the sound and movement of the pebbles, or shingles, on the beach, both set the stage for, and then, upon subsequent readings, echo the angst of the speaker. The night air is ‘sweet’ and the bay ‘tranquil’, but the noise made by the pebbles, as they are ‘drawn back’ and ‘flung’ by the waves is ‘grating.’ It is the first tacitly unpleasant image in this poem that defines the world as a cruel, lonely place.
The sound of the constant ‘ebb and flow of human misery’ may’ve once been tempered by religion. Sophocles' works are rife with references to the gods. Dover Beach alludes to none. This dimension of faith, in a higher power, is as lost to the speaker as the cliffs of England and the tranquil bay are wholly nonexistent to the pebbles. In this poem, as seen through the journey of the pebbles, there is nothing to look forward to except for the regeneration of individuals experiencing human misery.
Though the speaker forges a kinship with ‘you’, it is born of the idea that we, the individual pebbles, must suffer, each and all, the overwhelming elements of this world, which carry us to and fro on our pointless journey. The image of myriad pebbles, too, along with the reference to ‘ignorant armies’ both reflect the history of mankind’s propensity for war, and prophesy the brutal world wars that would occur in the century after the poem was written.
The “turbid ebb and flow of human misery” equates to the “Sea of Life” in that life is a constant struggle; the same struggle of the pebble that is tossed around by the waves. According to Matthew Arnold, there is no hope in the world, just constant misery, a continuous dirge or cadence. Life’s continual back and forth motion, like that of the tides, plays a song of misery. The ocean’s movement grates on the pebble like the naked shingles are exposed to the elements of nature; nature continues to beat down on the possibility of love like that of army that clashes. Whether on pebbles, shingles, or with people, the realities of the world create a rough and pessimistic view of life.
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