ISC Class 12 -Literature -Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold -Explanation

Dover Beach -Explanation stanza-wise
By Mathew Arnold

Introduction .. Mathew Arnold had written this poem possibly some time towards the middle of the nineteenth century. It was published in 1867.
The Dover Strait in the English Channel separates the United Kingdom from France. Dover is the English port, and its counterpart in the French shore is Calais. These two ports are the closest points between the two countries. The beach in the Dover Strait is a quiet retreat for lovers, thinkers, and those with a contemplative mind. Unlike other beaches, small pebbles make up the bed. The sea water gushes past these rough stone pieces making a roaring sound. On moonlit nights, the beach looks particularly lovely.
Mathew Arnold had come to this beach with his young wife for honeymoon. The place, the moon light, and his young wife beside him, all combined to make the speaker thoughtful and somewhat pensive. This is why the poem suffuses with deep reflective thoughts.

The sea is calm tonight.
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!

Meaning … The speaker describes the setting in rather plain words. The sea is quiet, tides are full, and the light from the French port city Calais is just gone off after shining for long. In the Dover side, cliffs make the backdrop. The poet asks his young wife to come to the window to breathe the fresh night air. Possibly, the couple live in a seaside cottage.

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.

Meaning … He draws the attention of  his wife to the churning waters of the sea that rub against the pebbles casting them away in all directions. He feels the spray-laden air, and looks towards the horizon where the sea meets the land. The sea emits a groan as it rubs against the pebbles. The water comes ashore, recedes, and repeats the back and forth motion incessantly. It seems it is ordained to do it over and over again with no respite. The darkness, the solitude, the towering cliffs, and the ceaseless groan of the sea water make the poet sad.

Sophocles long ago 

Heard it on the Ægean, 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. 


Meaning .. The speaker’s mood is gloomy. He recalls Sophocles, the ancient Greek playwright who wrote his plays with a clear undertone of tragedy. Sophocles, while roaming in the beaches of the Aegean Sea, was underwhelmed on observing the relentless surge and retreat of the sea water.  For the philosopher-writer, the humans have to endure constant hardship, punctuated by short spells of happiness, as they live their lives in the world. The roar of the Northern sea appears to be a groan of pain that the sea never gets respite from.


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. 


Meaning …. It needs to be understood that the speaker conjures The Sea of Faith as one all-encompassing swathe of water that once existed on earth in pre-historic times. It is only an imagination, and a metaphor to describe the principle of ‘faith; that once guided the humans on earth. Like the receding of water in the ocean during the ‘ebb’ phase, ‘faith’ has suffered gradual erosion, and no more guides humans in their lives. This has brought misery and gloom to the mankind. The speaker is saddened by this thought.


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.

Meaning ……The speaker now tries to cast off those depressing thoughts, and returns to his young wife at his side. He tells her that they should live like loyal, loving, and happy couples in the world that appears to hold so much opportunities for them. However, he cautions his wife that all these mean little when ‘faith’ is in the retreat and the environment is changing so fast. Perhaps, he was alluding to Britain’s fast-changing socio-economic climate. He thinks, the world has become a love-less, immoral, selfish, and materialistic place with no true and lasting love between a man and a woman.

He is perhaps alluding to an ancient battle where the invaders came charging at night. The darkness proved to be a disaster  for them when soldiers killed fellow soldiers, and confusion proved catastrophic. Without ‘faith’ and love, human existence has degenerated to the level where disharmony and discord blight human lives.


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    Adrita Das

    How has the advent of science led to the destruction of faith?
    Word limit 300 to 350 words
    Please write it soon!


    10pm February 20th


    we need it now otherwise it will be of no use

    Adrita Das

    Sir please post the answer


    How has the advent of Science led to the destruction of Faith?
    The answer is a resounding ‘No’. On the other hand, the converse might be true. The more Science progresses, the farther its frontiers appear to recede. For science enthusiasts, after a certain level, the main branches of Science like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology etc. seem to converge and meander towards Philosophy. At this stage, the human mind seems to get lost in a domain that is strange, baffling, and elusive. Scientists get lost thinking where the final frontiers of Science lie. They begin to feel that man possibly will never be able to unearth the secret of Creation.
    This is the stage in which the scientists take recourse to the help of God who is the ultimate reality. To make sense of Him, humans traverse different paths, only to reach the same universal and eternal goal – God. All these paths are the different faiths that we see amid us. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, all rreach the same goal following different paths. So, a ‘true’ scientist is a man of Faith, although he can be totally free of the dogmas and rituals that shroud a religion.
    There are scientists who discount the presence of God, and refuse to be follower of any faith. However, all of them concede that there is a ‘Superior Force’ that controls all of us. What they term as ‘Superior Force’ is God for rest of us. So, there is no dichotomy here. To visualize God, we have to be a part of a Faith.
    There have always been atheists and non-believers in all ages. It’s a mindset that has always been there, even much before modern Science took its shape. To attribute the atheists or the Faith-less people to be product of Science’s progress, therefore, is unreasonable.
    So, don’t blame Science for the erosion of Faith, if any. It’s the materialistic mindset that has eroded Faith, not the advent of Science.

    happy lamba

    Sir/ Ma’am
    what is the main issue that makes the poet melancholic?
    200 words


    Mathew Arnold wrote this poem in 1867, when Britain had become very wealthy, thanks to the benefits of the Industrial Revolution. There was widespread resentment against exploitation of the working class, and the growing disparity in wealth among the affluent and not-so-affluent classes. People used to die young due to T.B, Cancer etc. There was a pervasive fear in everyone’s mind about the future. Mathew Arnold was also similarly affected. He loved his young wife intensely, but the fear of the uncertain future remained in the back of his mind. On that night, the roar of the sea, the switching off of the lights in French side, and the moon in the sky triggered anxiety and sadness in his mind, making him thoughtful and reflective. This is the background of Arnold becoming melancholic even though he had his young wife beside him.


    How is the theme of loss of Faith shown in the poem Dover Beach?
    Word limit 350-400 words
    If possible sir can you please add quotes from the poem in the answer.


    Will post it by 9pm on 18th May.


    Sir answer??


    Sorry. Wait for two more days please. Will post before that.


    Loss of Faith as depicted in Dover Beach

    Mathew Arnold wrote Dover Beach in the middle of the nineteenth century. The poem does not impress the reader in the first reading, but the theme returns when the reader’s mind is vacant and contemplative. It’s poem that is so pregnant with provocative thoughts. Why and how a young husband with his youthful wife beside him enjoying his honeymoon in a beach in the evening feel so lonely and so taciturn and despondent? This was very unusual for Mathew Arnold, in the cusp of his youth, to get lost in deep contemplation and lament when the days ahead held so much joy and sensual pleasure ahead for him and his wife.
    Mathew Arnold lived in a time when England was not doing well socio-economically. The distress was palpable among the younger generation who saw their economic future as anything but bleak. This sense of uncertainty probably made Arnold ascribe the distress of his times to the erosion of moral values. The Sea of Faith that he mentions in the poem is a chronicle of the journey of the human civilization from the medieval world. With passage of time, theology-based religion and view of life was gradually abandoned in favour of reason and mathematics-based concept of the universe. Galileo Galileo Galilei was one of the torch-bearers of this change. As his intellectual loadstar, he adopted the mathematician –engineer Archimedes, and not Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of his time. As time passed, life became more and more secular. Reason and rationality prevailed over abstract theological concept of the universe. The Church’s role in society diminished gradually. For child birth to his / her naming to their marriage to their death, everything had to be recorded in a government register. The church’s role became secondary.
    In Mathew Arnold’s view, the dwindling of the Church’s influence, and the rise of science, mathematics and reason had been at the root of increasing human misery. He saw how attendance in churches fell over the years, and people devoted less and less time to prayers or religious duties. He felt such turning away from faith had pushed humans towards moral degradation and ruin. Obviously, he was pained and utterly distraught. Loss of faith, he concluded, had proved to be a disaster.


    What does the poet says about the sophocles and sea of faith ? Word limit 200 words

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