Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

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Why would you call "Dover Beach" a nature poem?

While Matthew Arnold's poem “Dover Beach” provides beautiful images of nature in its first stanza (and may thereby be called a “nature poem”), readers must be careful not to limit the poem through a label. “Dover Beach” also uses nature as a metaphor for human misery and the ebbing of faith and actually ends with a lament that has moved far beyond the natural world.

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Though “Dover Beach” isn’t strictly speaking a nature poem, it does draw freely upon the natural world for its vivid imagery. It also provides an unforgettable backdrop against which the dark and gloomy ruminations of the speaker take place.

As is generally agreed upon by scholars and literary critics, the roaring, retreating waves represent the ebbing of religious faith in a world where science is increasingly able to explain what had previously been the province of Christian mystery. Thanks to scientific advances, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the world is no longer quite as mysterious as it once was.

The waves and the shore on which the speaker stands are all the more vivid for their presentation as being part of a natural world in which it seems that God no longer plays an active role. As such, the speaker, like his beloved, is pretty much alone in the world, abandoned as they have been by the benevolent, loving deity of traditional theism.

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