by Matthew Arnold
We'll be the first to admit that we don't have some basic facts about this speaker. We don't even have a name or a gender for this dude. (For the sake of convenience in cases like this, we use the same gender for the speaker and the poet, although it's important to remember that they aren't the same person.) We don't know how old he is, or what he looks like.
So what do we know? Well, we know that he's standing in a room in Dover, England with his lover, and listening to the ocean. He's also educated enough to be able to drop a quick allusion to Socrates.
The Devil's in the (Lack of) Details
Still, that sounds like a lot of missing pieces to Shmoop. But that might just be the point. "Dover Beach" isn't really about superficial details like names, hair color, age, or background. It's a whole lot more universal than that. We don't want to blow this too far out of proportion or anything, but here goes: we think this speaker wants us to know how he understands The Entire World. And we think, in 37 lines, he does a pretty good job.
He shows us that he has a deeply bleak view of the present state of mankind, with little faith that human happiness can survive against the chaotic darkness of life. He believes that the world "Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light." He's nostalgic for a time when there was more faith in the world, and he tells us that "The Sea of Faith / was once at the full" (21-22) but it's hard to even tell when that was. He holds out some hope for love (29-30) but that doesn't look good. When it comes down to it, we might say this speaker sounds a little depressed. But we also think he should cheer up. After all, there's still poetry to read. And love to fall in.