Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

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What distaste is speaker expressing about the world around him? What, in his opinion, has caused this problem, and what internal struggle has it caused in his own life?

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As the poem opens, the speaker is standing at a window at night looking out over a calm and beautiful moonlit scene of the English channel. He is delighted about the sweetness of the air and the tranquility of the scene. He beckons to his beloved to listen to the sound of the water. His problem, however, is that that his mood changes and becomes less joyous, for he begins to hear the "eternal note of sadness" as the waves hit the pebbled shore.

This causes him to note that the world is filled with "human misery." He also reflects that the religious faith that used to give people hope has waned. He visualizes faith as a sea that once circled the earth like a "bright girdle." Now, however, in his melancholy mood, he realizes that the sea of faith is "withdrawing ... retreating ..." This too makes him unhappy. The speaker, deeply saddened, states that the world has

neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain
His solution to this problem of society's misery is to tell his beloved that they must cling together, faithful to each other in a world that is like a "darkling plain:"
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another!
This poem, which was published in 1867, is understood to express mid-Victorian fears and misgivings about a world seemingly increasingly ruled by science as religious faith declined. It strikes a note of pessimism in an era that is often characterized by an optimistic faith in progress. The speaker's solution to all the suffering he sees around him is for individuals to cling together in love. This is a personal, rather than a political answer to societal problems.

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