The unconsoled speaker entreats his love that since the world has let them down they be faithful to each other and create a safe haven in their devotion to each other because the old traditions have proven to be unreliable.
The sad reality that the "Sea of Faith," which once surrounded the world, is now but a melancholy and retreating noise indicates that there is no comfort to the speaker. This reality has come about because of the new findings of science in Arnold's time, findings such as those of Charles Darwin and geologists such as Charles Lyell who discovered fossils that dated back more than a million years. These discoveries shook the religious beliefs of many who supported the traditional notion gleaned from the book of Genesis that the world was created a mere six or seven thousand years prior to the nineteenth century.
Arnold's dramatic monologue presents a speaker and his wife as listener; his melancholy message is unrelieved by hope from the outside. Instead, values must be found within their inner lives away from the world and the disturbing realm of science as well as the industrialized society that Arnold viewed as increasingly materialistic and self-serving.