Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

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Is "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold pessimistic or optimistic?  Give reasons for your answer.

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Helen West eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" begins with an optimistic tone, but the poem contains a volta, or turn, in which the imagery and tone become dark and pessimistic.

The poem is set in Dover, which is situated on the high cliffs overlooking the English channel. Most of the imagery in the first stanza is calm and optimistic. The speaker calls his lover to the window to witness the beauty of the "glimmering" cliffs. The night air is "sweet," he says, and "the moon lies fair."

Beneath this beautiful facade, however, the speaker notices "a grating roar." The speaker suddenly begins to hear "the eternal note of sadness" and "ebb and flow of human misery." This change is the result of people losing their faith, according to the speaker. Just as the vibrant and beautiful landscape in the first stanza gives way to the "grating roar," he experiences this lack of faith as a "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar."

In the third stanza, the speaker briefly tries to return to the more optimistic outlook of the...

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