Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

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How does the poem "Dover Beach" imply that in the contemporary spiritual wasteland, love is the only consolation?

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To imply something means to suggest it without directly stating it. In the poem "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, the narrator is very skeptical of most traditional comforting notions.

The narrator begins by describing the beach at night, where the sound of waves reminds him of an "eternal note of sadness." The narrator then says that the ancient Greek philosopher Sophocles also heard this note of sadness. The reference to Sophocles implies that human misery has existed for as long as people have been writing about the human condition.

The narrator then transitions to discussing the "sea of faith," which used to be "full" but now is "retreating." This stanza continues the imagery of waves, but here the waves are part of a tide that has turned away from human society. Though humans once found solace in "faith," they are now much more distant from it, and it is always getting further away. This stanza shows that contemporary society has become barren and devoid of faith. The narrator later goes on to show all the other negative aspects of this faithless society.

The narrator then exclaims, "Ah, love, let us be true to one another!" and goes on to describe how although the world may seem beautiful, in reality it does not have hope, love, light, certitude, or peace. Instead, the world is a dark and confusing place "where ignorant armies clash by night." Notably, although the speaker commands his love to be true to him, he also says that the world generally does not have love. The command to be true to one's love is the only moment of hope in a poem that is otherwise full of dark imagery describing the negative state of the world, and therefore the speaker seems to imply that although love may not really exist in the larger world, the idea of love is worth staying true to.

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