The poet in "Dover Beach" makes use of sound devices throughout the poem to reinforce his message. Q: Please give examples and evaluate the effectiveness in relation to how the poet creates the...

The poet in "Dover Beach" makes use of sound devices throughout the poem to reinforce his message.
Q: Please give examples and evaluate the effectiveness in relation to how the poet creates the poem's meaning with these devices.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In "Dover Beach," Matthew Arnold's use of sound devices is very effective in creating what the poet calls "the ebb and flow/Of human misery"; that is, the machinery of wars and industry which destroy people's religious faith. 

Auditory images work effectively throughout Arnold's poem. In the first stanza, for instance, the poet views the beauty of the moonlight night on the straits of Dover; he sees the "tranquil bay" and finds the night air pleasing and "sweet" until the "grating roar" of the pebbles drawn back and forth by the sea's waves--much like the sounds of machinery or warfare--recall "the eternal note of sadness" that he feels. These auditory images represent reality while the lovely visual images represent the sensitive visions and illusions of the speaker and his initial reaction to the sight of Dover Beach.

In the second stanza, the speaker alludes to Sophocles, who also heard the same sound of ebb and flow in the Aegean Sea, reminding him of human suffering, often the subject of his plays.

In the third stanza, the auditory imagery of the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of the "naked shingles" (a metaphor for the pebbles), elicits again the great disappointment that the speaker feels in the reality that the "Sea of Faith," religious beliefs, that once abounded in people has declined in his time. This loss of faith is not only unfortunate, but it effects a sense of emptiness connoted by the sounds of the sea as it retreats across the pebbles on the beach.

In the last stanza, the speaker, "Swept with confused alarms of struggle among men and flight" from religious faith, finds no joy in the "darkling plain" of a faithless people who are like "ignorant armies" that fight in the night. Thus, the auditory images (sound devices)--"confused alarms of struggle and flight"--generate the negative reality of the decline of religious beliefs in a society that once was a "Sea of Faith."

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durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Sound devices add emphasis to poetry and literature and reinforce visual images that the writer uses to convey his message. In Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, it is appropriate to use sound devices because his chosen subject matter already invokes thoughts of the common noise associated with any beach scene. Examples of sound devices include alliteration when the first sound of a word is repeated such as when Arnold says "...gleams and is gone" (the g), "long line of spray" (the l) or "the sea meets the moon..." (the m). Alliteration is often very distinct and stresses a point but here it is interesting that Arnold uses it subtly to encourage calm. It appears in the first part of the poem when the narrator is in a dream-like state and so contributes to the tone. The reader can imagine the lull of the water and the great expanse of sea and sand. The very next line grips the reader and changes the pace significantly as the reader is instructed to "Listen!"  

Another sound device used by Arnold is rhyme. Just as the sea is unpredictable, Arnold uses what may seem like a random rhyming pattern but which does in fact have some structure. The first stanza even has some elements of the sonnet form.  At the beginning and the end the rhyme is noticeable and the first eight lines follow an abac dbdc pattern with the last stanza having an effe aggaa pattern including, noticeably a rhyming couplet. The rhyme in the body of the poem is less cohesive as lines rhyme but do not bind together in the same way which allows the narrator to share his "sadness" and "melancholy" and perhaps confusion. The image of the battlefield which grips the reader and which ends the poem, fits with the nature of the sea which can seem so beautiful and welcoming but can be overwhelming and engulfing.  

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