Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

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With whom is the man of today compared to by Arnold in the poem "Dover Beach"?

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Contemporary Victorian man is left flailing about the shore in darkness, just like the "ignorant armies" who fought each other in Sicily at night according to Thucydides's account of the Peloponnesian War. As the sea of faith recedes, man is plunged into a spiritual darkness, unable to make sense of a world in which the God of orthodox Christian belief no longer enjoys the same kind of veneration.

As such, modern man is forced back on his own resources, which means remaining true to the things that truly matter. In this ever-changing world, he must hold fast to a still point, something that can provide him and his loved-ones with much-needed stability in place of a rapidly disintegrating common faith. And the best place to find such stability—indeed the only place—is in the love we have for the people who matter most in our lives.

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Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" is an expression of concern and existential disquiet about the state of faith in Victorian England. At that time, ideas were changing quickly, and the speaker is afraid that the "Sea of Faith" is retreating from the island, leaving the people unsure of where to turn or what to believe. It is in this spirit that he compares himself and his readers—expressed collectively as "we"—to "ignorant armies" clashing with each other in a state of confusion.

Arnold famously describes these people, himself included, as being stranded on a "darkling plain." The darkness here is metaphorical as well as literal. The people are no longer able to see by the clear lights of the faith they had once known; instead they find themselves in the dark, "ignorant" of what is the right path and clashing uselessly with each other, both groups effectively blind. Like Sophocles long ago, struggling to find meaning in confusion, the speaker hears a "note of misery" in the sound of the sea because he cannot identify what is true any more.

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