What, according to "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, was the state of faith at one time?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answer to this question can be found right at the beginning of the third stanza.  Arnold states:

"The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled."

In this passage, he is stating that faith, goodness, love, mercy, kindness, peace and all of those things that he mentions at the end of the poem as lacking in the world ("joy...love...light...certitude...peace...help for pain") were all once a part of life, and filled the earth.  He compares the beauty of such a world to a "bright girdle furled," and that a world that was "at the full" with such beautiful human elements would have been a wonderful thing.  However, that is one of the only flashes of optimism and hope in his entire poem.  Yes, Faith and all of those good things were once "full" on the earth, but not any longer.  Instead, all that is left is an "eternal note of sadness," the "turbid ebb and flow of human misery," a "darkling plain" that is filled with "alarms of struggle and flight" where "ignorant armies" fight and clash.  The darkness and cynicism of Arnold's poem is the main emphasis, which makes his description of a beautiful world where the "Sea of Faith" unfurls its shining beauty around the world that more stark of a contrast.  It paints a beautiful image of what once was, and what hopefully, can be again.  I hope that these thoughts helped; good luck!