Dover Beach : Theme of Loss of Faith in God and Religion


 Dover Beach:  Theme of Loss of Faith

Question  : How is the theme of loss of faith in God and religion shown in “Dover Beach” ?

Answer : Dover Beach is one of the most famous poems of Matthew Arnold where he expresses his regret and dissatisfaction at the loss of faith in God and spiritual degradation of the society. The strong religious and spiritual faith of earlier times was beginning to vanish with the advent of science and technology that induced doubt and questions in people’s mind. 

       The poem begins with the beautiful description of Nature, where the sea is calm and quiet, the tide is full and  ” the moon lies fair ” on the every corner of this beautiful landscape. 

     The romantic and calm mood was suddenly disappeared and the saddening tone of flickering of faith in God was presented by the line “……. the light gleams and is gone”.

     With the advent of science and technology, the traditional religious beliefs were questioned by the people and the existence of God and the whole Christian scheme of things was cast in doubt. Arnold who was deeply religious, lamented the dying of the light of faith, as symbolised by the light he sees on  Dover Beach, which gleams for a moment and fades away the next moment.

     The poet explains  the gradual loss of man’s faith in a grand and suggestive similie. The poet has compared faith in religion to a sea that surrounds the world – The sea has its full tide and then ebbs away with the mournful music over the pebbles, it brings the eternal note of sadness which makes the speaker depressed. 

      The speaker further says –

     ” The Sea of Faith/

     Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s  shore “.

   Means, the faith in this world, once covered the whole earth like sea, it was at its fullest as the tide is now. Faith covered the world ” like the folds of a bright girdle “. It is suggestive of the fact that the faith once used to be strong and protected people from doubt and despair just like the sea wraps itself around the continents of the world. 

    However, the Sea of Faithhas receded. It was once at its “flow” but now it is at its “ebb”

    “Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar”

Suggested to Arnold the death throes of the Christian era.

     Due to the advancement of Science and technology, modern men tend to believe in science more than in God. The poet is so distressed by the fact that he compares the society without the faith in God and religion with the “naked shingles”, after the tide ebbs away from shore. 

     When the faith pulls away, it leaves nothing behind but sadness. It brings to mind a dreary feeling of helplessness, as though the mind is left stripped and bare on the vast and dreary edges of an unknown land. 

    At this stage, the speaker found that the only thing which can provide comfort to his distressful heart is love.  So he urges his companion – 

     ” Ah, love, let us be true

      To one another !”

      He urges his companion to be true to each other and with their pure love they can bare this harsh reality of world. 

      This world which apparently looks real, new, beautiful, true, various but actually it has – 

  ” neither joy, nor love, nor light / 

    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain. “

      The world is swallowed by darkness. It is unreal and deceptive. The world is like a battlefield at night where soldiers run after shadows and fire them, unable to tell friend from foe. But the only solace that the speaker finds in this crisis is love. Love is the only feeling that can save humanity when there is lack of faith in God and religion. 

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