In the poem "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, what is the most probable topic for a literary essay on the poem?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem, the speaker laments that the once unifying power in the world (religion, and Christianity in particular) is no longer relevant. The speaker seeks a substitute for this loss of unification. He looks for something that will fill the void that the loss of faith has left behind. He looks to his companion, thinking that maybe love for another will satisfy his empty feeling. 

The speaker uses the metaphor of the sea to represent religion. The sea (oceans) literally connect all the continents and thereby, all the people of the world. This is a metaphor for religion. Christian faith, according to the speaker, once had the ability to unite people across oceans and continents. But in his modern age, religion no longer provides the answers he seeks. He feels no unity with humanity. 

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
The "Sea of Faith" has withdrawn (ebbed), leaving nothing to connect the people of the world. The speaker is left on a figurative "darkling plain" while wars continue to be waged. Arnold uses a natural element (the oceans) to serve as the metaphor of that which unites people. The metaphor of the ocean (sea) is the key literary figure of speech in the poem. His substitute for the loss of faith is love (and culture in his other writings). It would be an interesting paper topic to discuss the metaphor of the ocean (as the sea of faith, the ocean as the source of all life, etc.) in all of its interpretations. But it would be helpful to play with the notions of love and culture as substitutes of faith. In other words, how might Arnold describe love in terms of the ocean metaphor, or would he use something else?