Introduction to Dover Beach

“Dover Beach” is a lyric poem by Matthew Arnold. It was first published in Arnold’s 1867 collection, New Poems, but is believed to have been written well before that. Though the poem is written in a free-verse style with no specific rhyme scheme or meter, it is often noted for its musical cadence and diction. The historical and geographical references give the piece a sense of time and place, though its themes have remained salient for contemporary readers.

“Dover Beach” is widely regarded as Arnold’s reflection on the changing relationship between science and religion in the nineteenth century. As industrialization swept across the world and scientific progress expanded, the religious sensibilities of the past fell increasingly out of fashion. Arnold, whose father was a member of the clergy, laments that the societal dismissal of religion has left the world ringing with an “eternal note of sadness.” However, hope is not lost: Even if religious doubts have left people feeling empty, love and human connection can fill the void left behind by faith.

A Brief Biography of Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) was a British poet, social critic, and school inspector. He is often regarded as one of the great Victorian poets, alongside Tennyson and Browning. Arnold was often a troublesome and underachieving student during his school years, much to the chagrin of his parents. However, one of the few academic topics to which he would devote himself was poetry. After an uninspired academic career, Arnold worked as a private secretary. It was during this period that he released his first collection of poems, which focused heavily on feelings of loneliness and introspection, to the surprise of his acquaintances. Out of a desire to have a stable enough income to marry, Arnold then sought out an appointment as an inspector of schools. He would hold this position for thirty-five years, though he referred to it as “drudgery.” However, this regular work and income allowed him to write in his spare time. Over the course of his life, Arnold wrote poetry, prose, and works of criticism. Though he never obtained great acclaim during his life, his writing continues to be a source of study, particularly his most famous poem, “Dover Beach.”

Frequently Asked Questions about Dover Beach

Dover Beach

“Dover Beach” is not written in free verse, but it shares certain qualities with free verse. Free verse is defined as poetry that neither rhymes nor has a regular metrical pattern—that is, a...

Latest answer posted February 1, 2021, 2:22 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

In "Dover Beach," watching and listening to the sea on a moonlit night causes the poem's speaker to dwell on his melancholy feelings. He believes that the "Sea of Faith" that once securely circled...

Latest answer posted February 1, 2021, 1:33 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

On the most elementary level, Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" is a Victorian poem because it was written and published during the reign of Queen Victoria, which lasted from 1837 to 1901. The poem...

Latest answer posted February 1, 2021, 11:11 am (UTC)

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Dover Beach

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...

Latest answer posted February 1, 2021, 12:23 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

In the second stanza of "Dover Beach," Matthew Arnold writes, Sophocles long ago Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery. What Sophocles heard,...

Latest answer posted February 1, 2021, 1:29 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

In "Dover Beach," Arnold refers to Sophocles, an ancient Greek playwright, in the following passage: Sophocles long ago Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 11:59 am (UTC)

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Dover Beach

There is a lot of imagery at play in the third stanza of “Dover Beach.” The extended metaphor in this stanza is religious belief being depicted in terms of a sea (“the Sea of Faith”), which laps at...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 12:08 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

When we discuss the "rhyme scheme" of a poem, we are referring to a fixed pattern of how the words at the end of each line rhyme (called "end rhyme"). To be considered a fixed rhyme scheme, end...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 1:14 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

The mood of "Dover Beach" becomes more sorrowful and despairing as the poem progresses. Words like "calm," "fair," "vast," and "tranquil," which appear in the first five lines of the poem, help to...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 1:26 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

Arnold uses a number of literary devices in "Dover Beach." In the fist stanza of the poem, the speaker invites the reader to listen to "the grating roar / Of pebbles" as the tide comes in, and in...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 11:44 am (UTC)

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Dover Beach

Dover Beach is not a dramatic monologue, although it shares certain traits and tendencies with the form. A dramatic monologue is a poem centered around a character’s extended meditation on a...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 7:51 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

The comparison in the fourth and final stanza of "Dover Beach" is dependent on the preceding stanza. In the third stanza, the speaker reflects upon the "Sea of Faith," which formerly lay "round...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 12:53 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

The eponymous beach described in "Dover Beach" is a real place. It is on the southern English coast on the Strait of Dover, which marks the boundary between the English Channel to the southwest and...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 11:37 am (UTC)

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Dover Beach

"Dover Beach" is a philosophical monologue, and for much of the time the speaker seems to be talking to himself. In the first stanza, however, he asks another person to come to the window, and in...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 11:45 am (UTC)

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Dover Beach

The main conflict in "Dover Beach" is between faith and faithlessness. In the third stanza of the poem, the speaker refers to a metaphorical "Sea of Faith," which he says once surrounded the earth...

Latest answer posted January 31, 2021, 12:10 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

Imagery is description that uses any of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. Imagery of the sea at night holds "Dover Beach" together and gives it coherence. The poem starts as...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 11:59 am (UTC)

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Dover Beach

"Dover Beach" appears to have been written around the time of Matthew Arnold's honeymoon in Dover in 1851, and it is addressed to his "love," particularly in the final stanza. However, the note of...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

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Dover Beach

In this poem, the speaker's view from his window as he looks out over the beach at Dover at night causes him to dwell on past ages. He thinks of Sophocles, an ancient Greek playwright. Talking of...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 12:25 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

The tone of "Dover Beach" is calm and melancholy at the beginning of the poem. The speaker is with his beloved, looking out of the window at the calm sea and asking her to be true to him. This,...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 12:08 pm (UTC)

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Dover Beach

Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" begins with the speaker looking out over a calm sea. By the end of the first stanza, the sound of the sea moving the pebbles on the beach has come to seem a...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 11:24 am (UTC)

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Summary