Matthew Arnold’s Imagery and Metaphor of the Beach in Dover Beach

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

While lecturing in America, Matthew Arnold wrote his poem “Dover Beach” in 1867. It is a free verse poem and does not follow any specific rhyme scheme and consists of 37 lines and 4 stanzas. Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” poem is about a person who is looking over the sea, and how this person is comparing the tides on the beach to his faith in society. The persona’s faith is slowly fading, similar to how the tides slowly fade from the shore, the persona. The persona then laments his decline of faith and at the end of the poem and addresses his beloved how the world’s beauty is only an illusion, but one thing the persona seems to remain to have faith in one thing. Matthew Arnold uses imagery, metaphors, and similes, which create a calm, lonely, and quiet tone found throughout the poem in order to describe his lost faith in the world, also hinting a bit of hopefulness at the end of the poem as we learn he stills has faith in love.

Matthew Arnold does a great job setting this calm and quiet tone by using plenty of imagery, describing the beach and the night. “The sea is calm to-night,” (1). This line is the very first line of the poem, it is clear that Arnold wants to give us a clear description of where the speaker is and the word “calm” lets the readers know it must have been peaceful and quiet.“The tide is full, the moon lies far,” (2). The next line follows up by describing the scenery of the tides on the beach, making it even more easy to visually picture this scene in the reader’s mind. “Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay,”(5). This line adds more imagery to the scenery and an even more detailed description of the beach and the sea. By using “vast” readers can easily get a sense that it was quiet, and the tranquillity of the bay contributing to the calm part of the tone. It also contributes to the loneliness part of the tone further into the poem, when the speaker begins to express his loss of faith in the world. The first stanza stresses out the scenery with a vast amount of imagery, the location of the speaker, and the significance of the sea and its tides, reflecting the quietness and tranquility of the sea.

Halfway through the poem, Arnold begins to shift the tone of the poem from calm and peace of mind to a gloomy and somber tone. “The sea is calm to-night,” (1). In the first stanza, the ‘calm’ sea and the overall description of the sea creates a sense of peacefulness. The calmness of the sea portrays the emotion of delightfulness and freedom. The calm and peaceful tone in the first stanza shows the significance and the possibilities of a pleasant life, portrayed through a beach and a quiet, silent, and vast sea. Yet this image of calmness and peace rapidly changes as the reader is left with a gloomy tone through the second half of the poem. “With tremulous cadence slow, and bring/The eternal note of sadness in” (13-14). It is clear that there is a sense of fear, lost hope, and loneliness that is brought on by vocabulary that has an unpleasant description and meaning. “To one another! For the world, which seems/To lie before us…” (30-31). These descriptions of these lines ultimately remind the persona of the hard truth and the sad reality, which brings fear to the persona. The persona cannot face the world alone and instead decides to face reality alongside with his beloved. “Sophocles long ago/Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought/Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow/Of human misery…” (15-18). In these lines, the words “human misery” bring thoughts of darkness setting the gloomy tone. One of the lines mentions Sophocles, who was a Greek author of dramatic and tragedy plays. This shows how the persona is thinking about how miserable and unhappy people are because of how cruel the world has become.

In the end, Arnold uses similes and symbols to create a hopeful tone that shows the persona still has faith in one thing, love, despite having lost faith in the world and the disappointing illusion of life. “The Sea of Faith/Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore” (21-22). Throughout the poem, the persona mentions the sea often and is usually referred to as an image and metaphor. In line 21 the sea could represent the faith of people put together and then in the second line it explains how the tides of the sea were once “full”, which suggests there once was a time when people’s faith was all together and faith in the world has faded away.“Ah love, let us be true.”(29). Despite the lonely tone created by the third and fourth stanza of the poem the speaker has a conversation with his beloved and readers can see that the speaker is not actually lonely, but rather still has faith in something. “To one another! for the world, which seems/To lie before us like a hand of dreams”(30-31). In this simile from line 31, the persona mentions himself and his beloved living in a “land of dreams” which means in a wonderful place, but it also suggests that this wonderful place is part of this illusion and is somehow unreal. “Ah, love, let us be true”(29). This line shows the persona is addressing his beloved and how they should be true to one another, being loyal and by each other, in order for the escape this disappointing illusion of life and the world, since the world has become a dark place. Although the persona has lost faith in the world, the persona is left to only have faith in one thing, love. The persona remains to have faith in love since it is the only way for him to hold on to the last remaining hope he has for the world.

Arnold’s use of imagery, metaphors, and similes achieves many tones, including a change in tone from the beginning to the end of the poem. Through the use of these devices, he expresses the world is only an illusion and gives the reader different perspectives of life, love, and existence. The author’s use of vocabulary is remarkable and really helps the readers get a deep feeling and sense of what the author is trying to say. Arnold is successful in using poetic devices and language in order to show the speaker’s feelings for the world. He is successful because his message of fearing the decline of faith and that the world’s beauty is only an illusion is summed up by several poetic devices and languages such as imagery, metaphors, personification, and similes. Arnold is able to shift tones smoothly and is able to clearly present the different tones found throughout the poem. Readers can take away the good use of imagery and vocabulary, as well as what a good shift of tone looks like.

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