What is the central idea of this poem?

The central idea of “Dover Beach” is that sadness is a natural part of human experience and that in the absence of religion, the comforts of faith no longer offer humans any relief. However, people can support one another through love and thus provide some measure of comfort from the pain of life.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The central idea of “Dover Beach” is that sadness and misery are guaranteed to be a part of human life, especially now that society lacks the religious faith that used to sustain humans in times of trouble. However, people can still find some beauty and comfort in one another.

The speaker of the poem listens to the sound of the sea’s ebb and flow one tranquil night, and he suggests that its “tremulous cadence” elicits an “eternal note of sadness.” Even Sophocles, an ancient Greek writer living thousands of years ago, could hear this same sound and feel this same profound melancholy. It is perhaps for this reason that Sophocles wrote tales of such dire human tragedy.

The speaker describes the “Sea of Faith” that was once “full” but which has receded from the shore, leaving humans vulnerable and liable to hopelessness and despair. In other words, religious faith no longer sustains people during troubled times.

In the face of this world of sorrow, the speaker tells his “love” that they should “be true” to each other. Despite the uncaring world, which can offer them, ultimately, “neither joy, nor love, nor light / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain,” the two of them can offer these comforts to one another amid the struggle and melancholy of life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team