Okay. "Dover Beach" isn't a total bummer. There are definitely moments of love and beauty and pleasure mixed in there, too. But Sadness with a capital S is threaded through everything, and it really builds at the end. We won't sugarcoat it for you: this poem has a pretty grim view of the world. On the other hand, Arnold does an amazing job of making that sadness memorable and moving, too.
Questions About Sadness
Is there sadness everywhere in this poem, or does it ebb and flow like water?
Do you think sadness is the most important feeling in the poem? Are there other feelings that compete with it? If so, where do you see them?
Do you personally feel sad after reading this poem? Why or why not?
Is there a difference between the "eternal note of sadness" (14) and the "turbid ebb and flow / of human misery" (17-18) or are those basically the same thing? How can you tell?
Chew on This
Sadness, as the speaker suggests in line 14, is just one note in this poem, part of a symphony of connecting and conflicting feelings about the world and human life.
"Dover Beach" attempts to force its readers to acknowledge that sadness is the only eternal and immovable aspect of human experience.