In this paper we are going to analyze the poem “Dover Beach” written by Matthew Arnold. It’s said to be one of his most famous poems because it represents very good the thoughts and doubts of religion and faith that the victorians had in this epoque. First of all, I would like to comment how the victorians saw the religion. In this period, the Victorians experienced a great age of doubt, the first that called into question institutional Christianity on such a large scale.

(cf. )

According to Arnold, Orthodox Christianity was intellectually inadmissible. Very little of his early poetry exhibits any serious worries with the Christian revelation. Perhaps the nostalgic undertone of Dover Beach is as close as the poet comes to an admission of the consolations offered by religion.

(c.f. )

We must know that apart from poetry, he was best known as the author of several volumes of literary, social and religious criticism. His religious views were unusual for his time. He had rejected orthodox Christianity as a young man, and become an agnostic; although he had great respect for men who felt they could commit themselves to a religion, he could not share their view.

(c.f. )

For this reason that I have just mentioned, he wrote “Dover Beach”, to express his feelings and thoughts towards religion.



The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
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 then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

(cf. )




"Dover Beach" is the most famous poem by Matthew Arnold and is generally considered one of the most important poems of the 19th century. It was first published in 1867, in the collection, New Poems.

(cf. )




By reading the title, we cannot know what the poem will deal with. If you read it, you will probably think that it will deal with nature but it doesn’t. So, I think that he wrote this title because in the first stanza, when he locates where is that sea, the “dover beach” will be that one which can be seen on the french coast.



This poem deals with religion and he is concretely taking about the loss of faith. But it is also about the industrialization and the changes in the cities (the progress) that were ocurring in that period of time (the victorian age).




This poem is structured in 4 stanzas which have different amount of lines. The first stanza consists of 14 lines, the second of 6, the third of 8 and the last one of 9 lines. The first stanza can be divided into 2 parts. In the first part (line 1 to 6), the sea is described in a very positive way. This can be seen because the poet uses adjectives such as “fair”, “tranquil”, “calm” etc. But, after line 7, that harmonious atmosphere changes into sadness. In the second stanza, it is said that Sophocles heard the sadness of the sea (long ago). And this sadness is compared to human misery. In the third stanza the sea is called the “Sea of faith” to show that once humanity was more religious. The first three lines of this stanza create a feeling of hope, whereas the last lines sound sad and hopeless.

The last stanza can be seen as a conclusion of the preceding ones. In this last one it is illustrated the contrast between hope and reality. Once some time ago in victorian population existed the hope, now he is talking about the loss of faith (now everything is confused, there is no certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain etc (line 33).






The poem is mainly written in third person, for example: “the sea” (line 1, “the tide” (line 2) or “the world” (line 30). We cab also see an apellative sentence in line 9 “listen!”. The first person only appears one time in line 24 “but now I only hear”, and it could be to emphasize that distrust in God that the author of the poem has (the loss of faith). And, eventually we can see the second person in lines 29, 31 and 35 “us and we” and he is using this person to be sad for that loss of faith and the “lies” that people were living.

Dealing with the temporal structure we find that the first stanza can be seen as a description of a present status, so he uses the verbs in simple present tense, for example: “is” (line 1), “lies” (line 2) or “begin” (line 12). Whereas the second stanza is a reference to the past, for that reason we can see verbs in simple past tense like “heard” (line 16) or “brought” (line 16). And, I must also say that when he refers to qhat he thought before his loss of faith, he uses the past such as “was” (line 22) but when he talks about what he thinks now, he uses the present like “hear” (line 24) or “are” (line 35).




We can mainly find juxtaposition in this poem, such as “tha tide is full, the moon lies fair” (line 2) or “ Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!” (line 4) or “So various, so beautiful, so new” (line 32). But there is also a lot of coordination, using “and”, for example in lines 4, 5 and 21. In all the poem he uses this connector, the word “and”. Furthermore, we can see “but” in line 24, that is also a case of coordination.

We can say that there are both short and long sentences but those last ones are not difficult to understand. That long sentences are always linked by the connector “and”.




We can find an  anaphora in lines 4 and 5 “Gleams and glimmering”, to underline the harmonious atmosphere of the first six lines.


Throughout the poem, the sea is used as an image and a metaphor. At first, it is beautiful to look at in the moonlight (ll.1-8), then it begins to make hostile sounds ("grating roar" (l. 9); "tremulous cadence" (l.13)) that evoke a general feeling of sadness. In the third stanza, the sea is turned into a metaphoric "Sea of Faith" (l.21) — a symbol for a time when religion could still be experienced without the doubts brought about by progress and science (Darwinism). Now, the 'Sea of Faith' and thus the certainty of religion withdraws itself from the human grasp and leaves only darkness behind.

And finally, we find a simile in the third stanza, in line 22 “bright girdle furled” which emphasizes that faith was inseparable to earth.

We can also find repetitions like the word “sea” in lines 1, 20 and 21, or “land and begin” repeated twice in lines 8, 12 and 31.




There are no archaic words although there are some words which nowadays they are not written in the way that appears in the poem, suc as “to-night” (line 1) which now goes together “tonight”.

Dealing with lexical fields we can find words related with the “sea” such as “cliffs”(line 4), “bay” (line 5), “spray” (line 7), “shore” (line 22), “edge” (line 27), “strand” (line 11), “land” (line 8 and 31), “coast” (line 3), “tide” (line 2), “waves” (line 10), or adjectives which expresses positive aspects like “calm” (line 1), “gleam” (line 4), and thse which expresses negative aspects suchas “nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (line 34) “darkling plain” (line 5) or “sadness” (line 14).

Eventually, we can find synonims such as “gleams”(line 4) and “bright” (line 22). Or “shore” (line 22) and “edges” (line 27) and “pebbles” (line 10) and “shingles” (line 28).







As for the metrical scheme, there is no apparent rhyme scheme, but rather a free handling of the basic iambic pattern. In stanza 3 there is a series of open vowels ("Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" (l. 25). A generally falling syntactical rhythm can be detected and continues into stanza 4. In this last stanza one can find seven lines of iambic pentameter (l.31-37), with the rhyme scheme of abbacddcc.

According to Ruth Pitman, this poem can be seen as "a series of incomplete sonnets".

The first two sections each consist of 14 lines that suggest but do not achieve strict sonnet form, and except for a short (three foot) opening line, the last section emulates the octave of a sonnet, but closes with a single, climactic line instead of a sestet — as though the final five lines had been eroded.





From my own point of view, the main topic of this poem is religion, and concretely the loss of faith in the victorian age. I think the main reason why he wrote this poem is because he questioned himself whether the religion was true or not. We must know that he was a christian but as soon as he grew up, he became agnostic, that means, he lost his trust in God, so, in a way, we can say that he lost his faith. Dealing with the structure of the poem, we can say that in the first stanza, from line 1 to 6, the sea is described with very positive connotations whereas from line 7 to 14, this seaa is turned into negative ones.

Then, the second stanza makes a reference to the ancient greek. In this stanza the sea continues having bad connotations and it is said that, at those times, Sophocles also heard that sadnees on the A gaean. In the third one, the sea is called as the “sea of faith” and he makes a comparison between the good aspects that the sea once had and that now it has turned into bad ones. And finally, the last one, we could say that it entires all the other stanzas. And here he could be saying that he has realised that people are alone in the world, he did not know if he must have faith or not, so the only way to survive is being supportive with each other. But he could also be talking about the industrialization. We can see in the last stanza,where we can suppose that he could be saying that the city was changing due to the industrialization but there are people who are discontent with this progress.

But, as a whole, I think that the main theme is the loss of faith.



In order to sum up, I would like to say that we have seen why this poem reflects so good what he felt about religion. We must also say that apart from reflecting quite well Matthew’s own feelings, it also expresses the epoque of doubt and of questioning religion (whether it was true or not) in the victorian age. We should remember that, as I have said before, this age is characterized by the distrust in God, and the loss of faith (which this poem reflects very good).

We must know too, that he was a christian but, while he grew up into adulthood, he became agnostic, I think that’s the reason why he wrote this poem, to express what he thought in that moment about religion.

So, to conclude, we can say that although this is one of the most important poems that Matthew Arnold has wrote, it is also interesting and I have chosen this poem to do my paper because it helps us to understand better the view that victorians had towards religion and faith. And Matthew, uses simple sentences, not difficult to understand, to explain this topic that has a very important role in victorian age. That is why I have chosen this poem.



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