Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

The sea is calm to-night,
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!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the ebb meets the moon-blanch'd sand,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves suck 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.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, 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.

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd;
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 clash by night.
It is often said that the lines of the poem Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold resemble the waves that wash back and forth over the shore, or are the shapes of the cliffs. Personally, I do not agree with this idea, yes I know it's poetry and you can always analyze the hell out of poetry, but I believe that the lines resemble that of many other poems if you haven't noticed. Most poems look wavy on one side and straight on the other. So I do not believe that teachers should teach that the lines were meant to represent the cliffs or waves, I just believe that teachers should allow the students to interpret what they think they are.
The conflict between religious and scientific perspectives became more marked with the publishing of Lyell's Principles of Geology and Darwin's The Origin of Species. The decline in faith caused by these, and other evolving attitudes and ideas, led Matthew Arnold to comment:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

In Dover Beach, Arnold offers a replacement for the benefits of faith: love between men. Despite this alternative, the poem reveals Arnold?s desperation towards man, who is 'Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night.' The contrast between the original optimism of the poem and its conclusion highlights the conflict that the poem represents.

In examining the conflict of science and religion, Arnold focuses upon the central divisive force in Victorian England. To dismiss religion altogether is symbolic of the progressive nature of the time. The beauty and clarity of the work, conveyed through masterful language and imagery, show that times of conflict generate beauty and meaning.

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