Whose voice is depicted in this poem? What is the significance of this choice of narrator?
In "Dover Beach," the speaker is often said to be Arnold himself, addressing his wife. But this is not overt in the poem and as such, could be any young man addressing his wife or significant other. This is a dramatic monologue, a verse given by one speaker to one or more silent listeners. Using a silent listener, the speaker can also focus on (and make his listener pay attention to) the sounds of the world. This poem is his contemplation of a world in transition: from religious certainty to modern uncertainty. The sounds of the waves reflect the speaker's lament on the changing world:
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and begin again,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
With the advent of advancing scientific theories, such as Darwin's evolution, religion begins to have less impact and solace for people living in the mid 19th century. Therefore, the "Sea of Faith" is no longer full and embracing; rather, it is heard as a "withdrawing roar." Without the comfort of faith, the world is a more uncertain place. In a world sans religious comfort, the speaker proclaims to his wife that they should place all of their efforts in love.
The voice of the speaker is that of a young man, but an old Romantic. He sounds somewhat hopeful but in a hopeless state of uncertainty. He laments how the world is changing, but in the end clings to the idea of Romantic love as a saving grace in a world with no "certitude." His is the voice of anxiety in a quickly changing world.