In Matthew Arnolds poem, Dover Beach, what does the speaker have in common with Sophocles?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the preface to his Poems in 1853, Matthew Arnold writes that poetry must "inspire and rejoice the reader"; it must "convey a charm and infuse delight." He also writes that the poet must be a serious thinker who inspires his readers. In addition to inspiration, poetry must contain what Arnold termed the quality of "high seriousness."

In the second and third stanzas of "Dover Beach," there is a shift from the mood of the first stanza with the mention of bringing "[T]he eternal note of sadness in." It is with this sense of the tragic character of life that Arnold alludes in the third stanza to Sophocles and his occupation with the "turbid ebb and flow/Of human misery" that is universal. This allusion to Sophocles, the Greek tragedian, also suggests that the poem is about something important since Sophocles wrote of the human condition in his tragedies. In "Dover Beach," Arnold, like Sophocles, writes of the loss of faith, the conflicts, and the connection of these human failings past and present.

alison3000 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Arnold mentions Sophocles because he was an ancient playwright who understood the tragedies of the characters in his plays much like the speaker understands the tragedy of the loss of religious faith. Both Sophocles and the speaker are deep thinkers who can all too clearly see the problems around them and seek solace from them in either love or art.

In general the poem is a very Victorian one which is concerned with the withdrawing of religious faith in Britain with the advent of modern science. Britain is being compared to Greece with the speaker imagining Sophocles gazing out to sea thinking, much as he is himself.  


quddoos | Student

Dover Beach is a dramatic monologue with the lover as the speaker and the ladylove as the silent interlocutor. The poem aesthetisizes the apprehension of a sensitive spiritualist at the erosion of faith from the Victorian life which had become crassly materialistic. It is also an elegy ,for the speaker-poet mourns for the recession of faith in Christianity.The last two lines express the slow rhythm of the conflict that cause sadness. He uses allusion "Sophocles long ago...."in the starting of the poem by refereeing to his story that said that atheism would cause misery. - See more at:'s-poem-dover-beach#sthash.1rQywPhX.dpuf

quddoos | Student

They both hear in the sea the sounds of eternity and pervasive sadness