English 101-003, Essay 1
February 15, 2018
What The World Could Be Without Human Misery
“Dover Beach” is a poem written by the poet Matthew Arnold in the mid-1800’s. The speaker seems to be a man. A man who is going through some sort of depression or crisis. A crisis that has changed what he used to see. This man isn’t alone though. There are a few lines that suggest that someone is there with the speaker. As one goes through the poem, the speaker’s crisis becomes more relevant, and that it has made them a way they do not wish to be. All these things start to point the reader towards how the speaker is losing his faith, either religious or not, and this is making him very despondent and fatalistic; what struggle in the speaker currently experiencing within himself.
The speaker is very demanding “Come to the window” (line 6) then again he tells the person “Listen!” (8) that way to get their attention and to do something. The speaker is also very educated. He references a Greek tragedian in stanza two, “Sophocles long ago / Heard it on the Aegean” (14-15) By the speaker referencing Sophocles this show that he received schooling which men during the time period were able to receive. With the speaker being male this helps you start to deduce who he might be there with.
Though there a few ways to tell, the speaker is there with someone, whom he is speaking to. In the first stanza, he says “Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!” (6) The speaker here is trying to get the attention of the person. He wants them to come experience the night and what is on the outside of the room that they are in. After getting the person to come to the window and take in the air, he tells them “Listen! you hear the grating roar… / …The eternal note of sadness in.” (8-13) While these line don’t tell you much about who the speaker might be talking to; it does suggest what the speaker wants to the person to experience and draw in. The speaker wants this person to listen to this roar and not just the sound it puts off. He wants this person to draw the sound into their being and understand how this roar is the sound of sadness. The last very obvious clue that speaker is there with someone whom he is talking to and telling his thoughts to starts the last stanza. The speaker says “Ah, love, let us be true/ To one another!” (28) which gives detail suggesting that the person is a romantic partner of the speaker. What the speaker is saying to this person though is let us be honest and open and do the things for each other that we wouldn’t do with anyone else. Let us tell each other secrets and things that others wouldn’t be told. Even though the speaker is talking to someone the entirety of the poem what really matters is what he is telling this person.
Many lines suggest that he is going through a loss of hope or faith that times into this eternal human misery that we everyone comes to experience. This could be in the world or maybe even his religion. One of the first lines that stands out and points you in the direction of the speaker’s crisis is “The eternal note of sadness in.” (13) When you think about this line it suggests that the only thing the speaker hears is sadness. In something as beautiful as the roar the of the ocean all there is sadness. He then states that “Sophocles long ago /Heard it on the Aegean.” (14-15) In this line he’s telling you that this isn’t the first time that a person has head this sadness, it was heard centuries earlier by a Greek tragedian that when he heard this “note”, “it brought/ into his mind the turbid ebb and flow / of human misery.” This meaning that when Sophocles heard the note it made him think about and picture this never ending, ongoing cycle of human misery and this is also what the speaker is picturing. The speaker then goes on to reference “The Sea of Faith”; stating that “The Sea of Faith / Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore / Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.” (20-23) He’s saying that just like the Sea of Faith, his faith is also receding. This being his faith in the world or his faith in God and his religion. Why this receding shoreline is bad because it once gripped tight and was vast. Also, he is implying that he used to look at the sea much differently than he does now. Lastly the whole last stanza are where you start to see the fatalistic tone of the speaker. Where he suggests that even though the world looks nice and is full of all these enjoyable things, in all reality the world has “neither joy, nor love, nor light…” (32) and this going back to “Ah, love, let us be true / to one another” (28) these are the reason why we should be true one another because the world is none of these things and we are the only people that we have.
When reading Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”, you first start to think that it’s going to be a nice poem that describes the beach but as you keep reading this is very wrong. You start to realize that the speaker is going through a crisis of a sort of faith, which he is telling and relieving his thoughts on whom is possibly his romantic partner of sorts. Through the telling of his thoughts you see that he, the speaker, is a very cynical and fatalistic person. He really has no hope left in life or his religion, and that all the things that you think the world is and has to offer, really isn’t there, and that the misery that humans experience is never going to stop no matter who or what you have in your life.
Arnold, Matthew. “Dover Beach.” Handout, English 101: Critical Reading and Composition,
University of South Carolina, Fall 2018.