The poem Dover Beach is about maturity, reflecting his own felt need to commit himself and his life. Matthew Arnold has written many other poems, some of which were inspired by a French girl, Marguerite, from whom he was to be separated for the rest of his life. These poems highlight his realization that love enhances loneliness, a sense of loss, and is a self-imposed prison.
The title locale (location) and subject of the poem’s descriptive opening lines is the shore of the English ferry port of Dover, Kent facing Calais, France at the Strait of Dover, the narrowest part of the English Channel, where Arnold honeymooned in 1851
The most poignant image is the sea. The sea includes the visual imagery, used to express illusion, as well as the auditory imagery, used to express reality. A vivid description of the calm sea in the first eight lines allows a picture of the sea to unfold. However, the next six lines call upon auditory qualities, especially the words “Listen,” “grating roar,” and “eternal note of sadness.” The distinction between the sight and sound imagery continues into the third stanza. Sophocles can hear the Aegean Sea, but cannot see it. He hears the purposelessness “of human misery,” but cannot see it because of the “turbid ebb and flow” of the sea. The allusion of Sophocles and the past disappears abruptly, replaced by the auditory image, “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” (Lines 24-28). The image is intensely drawn by Arnold to vividly see the faith disappearing from the speaker’s world. The image of darkness pervades the speaker’s life just like the night wind pushes the clouds in to change a bright, calm sea into dark, “naked shingles.”In the final stanza, the speaker makes his last attempt to hold on to illusion, yet is forced to face reality.
The tone of the piece is determined by the constant presence of “melancholy” and “misery” in the poem that stretch on into the distance with a “long withdrawing roar…” The calmness of the narrative voice with which the piece is set to work (“the sea is calm to-night). The tide is full, the moon lies fair.”) is essential for the descriptive nature of the first stanza. Yet, later on its role is to emphasise the negativity in the tone of the poem: “But now I only hear /Its melancholy…”, “Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow /of human misery…” The end of the piece, however, implies that the alteration of the things around us is something inevitable. The tone changes in the last verse of the poem in the sense that it now not simply resents mutability, but is also a tone pleading with the reader to realise nothing is as stable and reliable as one perceives it, not to take the world for granted, and to stay “true/ to one another”. Bitterness is suggested when Arnold exclaims ‘Ah, love’ to show that in this changing world, one can only rely on the partner, and be trustful and true. Sarcasm is used to describe the modern world as a ‘land of dreams’ as there is no more hope for the world, as there is no more faith.