As “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold

As “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold

As “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold begins, the speaker is standing upon the shore near the white cliffs of Dover, England, while viewing the English Channel and the French shore on the other side. The calm night as described in the first stanza is misleading as what seems to be a peaceful and tranquil world actually contains violent action, represented by the waves crashing down on the beach. The speaker believes the collapsing waves represent the human misery. Our world has become full of this human misery and the speaker means to warn us against this discreet aspect of nature. The speaker reminisces about the earlier times before the world was corrupted and uses symbolism and intricate diction to explain the world as it is now. He does this by recalling good times of the past, and by warning us of the loss of faith and coming of misery. An important aspect of “Dover Beach” is the presence and importance of symbolism. In the beginning of the poem, during the description of the calm sea at night, a light across the channel on the French side “gleams and is gone.” In most cases of poetry, it is common for light to represent kindness and hopefulness. The extinguishing of this light symbolizes these good qualities of the world being extinguished. At this point, though, the mood is still quiet and optimistic. The most obvious symbol, however, is the constant reminder of the presence of the sea. The sea seems to represent the entire world. This is shown in both the second and third stanzas when the speaker describes the sea as it was long ago. Since the waves symbolize human misery and characterize the sea, and the sea represents the world, the world is characterized by human misery. The diction in “Dover Beach” gives the poem a noticeably peaceful tone. Words, such as “vast,” “full,” “tranquil,” “calm,” and “glimmering,” reassure this tone. The tone changes when the diction changes to a rougher, wave-…


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