Study Guide

Dover Beach Life, Consciousness, and Existence

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Life, Consciousness, and Existence

Matthew Arnold's strategy for "Dover Beach" is something like "go big or go home." He doesn't restrict himself to little issues, or a moment in time, or fleeting feelings. No, he deals with the Big Stuff, like History and Faith and the True Nature of the World. In just 37 lines he zooms out so far that he's looking out over all of human existence. Sure, the view he sees is pretty dark, but we think there's something exciting about how grand and philosophical this poem manages to be in such a small space.

Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

  1. Why does Sophocles show up in "Dover Beach"? How does the whole second stanza fit in the with the larger poem?
  2. Does life seem like a dark battlefield to you? Does that metaphor resonate with you at all? I mean, we know "Love is a Battlefield," but life?
  3. Is there any hope for humanity in "Dover Beach"? If so, where do you see it?
  4. Do the conclusions that the speaker draws about the world apply to him as well, or is he somehow exempt?

Chew on This

The beauty of the language in "Dover Beach" works against its main premise, that life is fundamentally lightless and joyless. Even if the subject is grim, the poem itself emphasizes the fundamental hopefulness of existence. Take that, despair.

While the speaker condemns the world for its misery and absence of faith, he does not extend those conclusions to himself. In essence, he manages to separate himself from the rest of humanity.

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