Towering whitecaps hurl pebbles onto a moonlit beach like children splashing each other, as tall pale cliffs stand behind them watching; their white faces glitter with parental pride. Over and over, the shallow water is filled with the flying stones. From watching the tides, humans have thought that the Ocean is a living force due to its sudden tendency to wreak havoc with seemingly random storms. People that live today know better, and have come to appreciate the Ocean for all the benefit it provides. However, many poets do not see the sea the same as the rest of us. Take for example the poet and scholar Matthew Arnold. His poem Dover Beach is deeply pessimistic, and possesses negative connotations toward the Ocean. The Ocean plays a central part in the poem, and could be considered one gigantic metaphor or symbol for something that is immensely personal to the poet. With all of the clues he provides in the poem’s four stanzas, the Ocean, with all of its movements and sounds, acts as a metaphor for the rising and falling of faith in God and the belief of a nonexistent afterlife in Victorian England.
The first example of proof of the Ocean as a barometer of religion resides in the last six lines of stanza one. In this section, the speaker gives the Ocean a “roar”, which portrays the powerful presence of the largely unchallenged Christian faith. This “roar” is placed early on in the poem, as religion was widespread prior to the entrance of “the geology of Charles Lyell . . . [which] was forcing Europeans and Americans to rethink how life began on the planet. Lyell’s discoveries of fossils dating back more than one million years ago . . . made it difficult to accept the book o...
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...to the beach from his cabin window, contemplating a life which is missing a large chunk after their faith died a scholarly death. As their eyes roam the ebbing and flowing tides, they realize that the ocean seems to perfectly match the current day and age; the religious beliefs of the world once had a firm grip over reality, just as the full tide has a firm grip on the pebbles it flings to and from shore. However, science and higher learning have arrive and act just like the moon, pulling the tide back out to sea with its gravity. This ebbing motion mirrors the decline in the God-believing masses, some who now see the foolishness of their errant ways. But one question remains: how will humans survive without their old religious spine? Will they wobble back and forth in blindness and chaos to eternally wander with no purpose? Or, will they find a new backbone in love?
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