The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earthâs 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 crash by night.
The first time I read the poem âDover Beachâ by Matthew Arnold, I got the impression of somberness, uncertainty, and melancholy. To me, it conveys the ideas of self-deceit, change, consequence, humanity, and a struggle for truth. I had to look up the word âshingles,â because itâs not used as a reference to roofs, but piles of small stones on a beach. In order to understand it better, I interpreted and paraphrased the poem as follows: âOur faith in ourselves and the world was once strong, and earth was full of texture, quality, and diversity. But now I only hear those things ebbing away, leaving us to destroy nature and become dull and emotionless. Let us love one another! For the world seems to have everything we want, so diverse, so beautiful, so new, but it really doesnât have joy, love, goodness, certainty, peace, or solace; we are mentally and emotionally blind, fighting in secret, confused, not knowing what weâre fighting about.â
âDover Beachâ by Matthew Arnold- the name of the poem may be a reference to an actual place, a beach that has rocks instead of sand, suggesting that itâs rather bare and dull. This is a lyric poem, because there arenât events that happen sequentially like in a narrative poem. It doesnât exactly change topics between the two stanzas; however, the focus does shift a bit, because in the first stanza, itâs talking about a beach, giving an example to represent the world in general, which is what the second stanza is about.
There are several sensory images in the poem. For example, when it says âmelancholy, long, withdrawing roar,â it appeals to the sense of hearing and gives the reader a feeling of desperation and emotional pain. When you read that line, you can just hear in your mind the long, desperate cry of a person struggling with some unknown, internal force. Engaging the readerâs sight, the âround earthâs shoreâ and âthe folds of a bright girdle furledâ come into play, giving off a positive, beautiful feeling. This may be because the poet wanted to give the reader an intimation of what the world was like when it had the âSea of Faith,â when we still appreciated nature and had faith in it and ourselves. The phrase âa darkling plainâ brings to mind darkness of course, showing that people donât know what theyâre doing; weâre just swaggering around with blindfolds on. The last few words of the poem, ââŚignorant armies clash by nightâ gives a sense of confusion and stupidity, but at the same time secrecy.
As far as Iâm concerned, this entire poem is a series of metaphors all merging together. The first line, âThe Sea of Faith,â is probably referring to the faith and appreciation that people put in nature and in themselves. So when it says that the sea of faith was once, too, at the full, itâs saying that people had a lot of faith in themselves and in nature but we donât anymore. âBut 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 worldâ means that people are losing their faith, so the world is becoming much more dreary, bare, and without beauty or texture, probably because of humans placing less importance on nature and emotions, and emphasizing technology, dehumanizing society in general. The last two lines of the poem, âSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight where ignorant armies clash by night,â most likely refers to opposing people fighting and going to war, but they donât even know what theyâre fighting about. Drawing on âclash by night,â the fighting is done in secret so that the majority of people donât know that thereâs even a problem. There are three similes in the poem- âand round earthâs shore lay like the folds of a bright girdle furledâ shows that before we lost ourselves, the earth was predominantly natural and full of life and diversity. The second simile is âFor the world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams...â A land of dreams would contain everything you could ever want, everything beautiful and painless, so the poet is saying that thatâs how most people perceive the world. Lastly, âand we are here as on a darkling plainâ compares being in a dark place to the fact that our society doesnât really know what itâs doing even though it thinks it does, and if we just shoot blindly, there might be negative consequences.
There is a repetition of the words âsoâ three times, and ânorâ five times, in the second stanza of Dover Beach, probably to emphasize the contrast between the perceived world and how it actually is. It especially draws attention to the lines about the world not really having all these great things like love, joy, certainty, or peace, which is significant because humans have made it this way. The word âroarâ is an onomatopoeia, drawing attention to the feelings of anger and desperation. âClashâ can also be an onomatopoeia, showing the forceful struggles of the âarmies.â There are a few couplets in the second stanza, but only two really draw the readerâs attention because of the rhythm of the lines, the places where you pause. For example, the rhyming lines in âfor the world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreamsâ isnât nearly as noticeable as ânor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; and we are here as on a darkling plainâ or âswept with confused alarms of struggle and flight where ignorant armies clash by night.â The author may want to draw attention to those four lines because they contain one of the most imperative messages- we should think about the consequences of what we do before we just stab wildly in the dark.
This poem uses first person point of view. The mood is dreary and very reflective. The theme is that people should place their faith in the world, because if you change things too much without thinking of the consequences, negative things will probably happen. The poet calls attention to the phrase Sea of Faith by capitalizing it, because thatâs what the whole poem is about and thatâs essentially the most important thing according to the poet, having faith in ourselves and our world.
The first time I read âDover Beach,â I really didnât have a clue what it meant, but as I read it carefully and thought about it deeply, the more I came to understand it. Just like Mrs. Phelps in the novel Fahrenheit 451, I feel like I can make a connection with the poem, making it more meaningful. As for Mrs. Phelps, her husband was going to war and therefore she could relate to the poem; it speaks of fighting for no reason and although Mrs. Phelps may not realize it, deep down she knows thereâs no reason for the war and there really shouldnât be one. She still retains that human element under the surface and she does care a lot about her husband and doesnât want to see him get hurt.
The effect this poem has on the reader has a lot to do with the techniques Matthew Arnold used. For example, if the mood was extremely cheery and upbeat instead of somber and dreary, it wouldnât convey the message nearly as well; it wouldnât make the reader reflect on society and him or herself nearly as much, so the whole point of the poem wouldnât come across. The message also wouldnât come across as well if the poet hadnât used all the metaphors that he did, especially when it comes to being on a dark plain and armies clashing by night, because that really illustrates the point that we donât know what weâre doing when we do half the things we do. Iâm still uncertain about several aspects of the poem, because there are so many ways you can interpret everything. Who exactly are the âarmies?â Do shingles symbolize the empty quality of the people in society, or the bareness of the world because people are ignoring nature and advancing technology so much?