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Critical Analysis of the Poem Dover Beach

Critical Analysis of the Poem "Dover Beach"

The first stanza opens with the description of a nightly scene at the seaside. The lyrical self calls his addressee to the window, to share the visual beauty of the scene. Then he calls her attention to the aural experience, which is somehow less beautiful. The lyrical self projects his own feelings of melancholy on to the sound of "the grating roar /Of pebbles, which the waves draw back, and fling/ At their return, up the high strand" (ll.9-11). This sound causes an emotion of "sadness" (l.14) in him.

The second stanza introduces the Greek author Sophocles' idea of "the turbid ebb and flow of human misery" (ll.17-18). A contrast is formed to the scenery of the previous stanza. Sophocles apparently heard the similar sound at the "Aegean" sea (l. 16) and thus developed his ideas. Arnold then reconnects this idea to the present. Although there is a distance in time and space ("Aegean" -- "northern sea" (L. 20)), the general feeling prevails.

In the third stanza, the sea is turned into the "Sea of Faith" (l.21), which is a metaphor for a time (probably the Middle Ages) when religion could still be experienced without the doubt that the modern (Victorian) age brought about through Darwinism, the Industrial revolution, Imperialism, a crisis in religion, etc.) Arnold illustrates this by using an image of clothes ('Kleidervergleich'). When religion was still intact, the world was dressed ("like the folds of a bright girdle furled" (l. 23)). Now that this faith is gone, the world lies there stripped naked and bleak. ("the vast edges drear/ And naked shingles of the world" (ll. 27-28))

The fourth and final stanza begins with a dramatic pledge by the lyrical self. He asks his love to be "true" (l.29), meaning faithful, to him. ("Ah, love, let us be true /To one another!" (ll. 29-30)). For the beautiful scenery that presents itself to them ("for the world, which seems/ To lie before us like a land of dreams,/ So various, so beautiful, so new" (ll.30-32)) is really not what it seems to be. On the contrary, as he accentuates with a series of denials, this world does not contain any basic human values. These have disappeared, along with the light and religion and left humanity in darkness. "We" (l.35) could just refer to the lyrical self and his love, but it could also be...

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Category:   Poetry

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