Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

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What is the effectiveness of the metaphor in stanza three in "Dover Beach"?

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the third stanza of this poem, Arnold creates a metaphor through the phrase "the Sea of Faith." Here, Arnold is comparing the sea to the strong religious feelings which the people of England once held.

The effect of this metaphor is to reinforce Arnold's central message: that people were once strong in their religious beliefs but that, thanks to the rise of scientific thinking and discovery, the nation's faith has been weakened. In other words, people now question the ideas that they once held true.

To demonstrate this decline of faith, Arnold talks about the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of the sea. So, just as the tide ebbs and retreats, faith has also disappeared from view. The effect of this is to create a somber and depressing mood. By using the word "melancholy," for example, Arnold expresses his sadness at this development.

Arnold therefore mourns the decline of religious belief, and the metaphor of the "Sea of Faith" is instrumental in helping him to express this.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The third stanza of "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold is essentially a single extended metaphor that compares faith to a sea surrounding the world. It is a metaphor rather than a simile because Arnold uses the phrase the "Sea of Faith" rather than using explicit words such as "like" or "as" to make an explicit comparison between faith and the sea.

In earlier stanzas, Arnold had talked about the real tide withdrawing. In this stanza, he talks about faith receding from the modern world, which in his period was becoming increasingly secularized. He describes the world being left behind as naked. This metaphor indicates something positive, as the stripping away of myth leaves behind a clearer vision of reality. However, he also sees faith as giving value and meaning to life and therefore regards its retreat as melancholy. 

The use of metaphor is effective because it conveys ideas and their emotional impact together, showing rather than telling us about Arnold's troubled and ambivalent relationship to traditional Christianity.

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