Poem Dover Beach—Stanzawise Summary and critical appreciation

Summary of the Poem:

Stanza 1: 

The sea is calm to - night, 
The tide is full, the moon lies fair 
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light 
Gleams, and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, 
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

 Explanatory Word-Meanings: 

Fair = beautiful. Strait = narrow gulf. Gleam = send out soft light. Cliffs = steep faces of rocks. Glimmer =send out a weak light. Tranquil = peaceful.

Poem Dover Beach—Stanzawise Summary and critical appreciation
 Poem Dover Beach—Stanzawise Summary and critical appreciation


Dover Beach looks full, calm and quiet in the moonlight. The light of the moon reflected on the narrow gulfs is specially very fair and soul - enchanting. The French Coast is shrouded in soft light and all of sudden, the light has disappeared. The steep rocks of England looking vast in the weak light are clearly seen reflected in the tranquil water of the bay.

Stanza 2:

Come to the window, sweet is the night air! 
Only, from the long line of spray 
Where the sea meets the moon blanch'd land 
Listen you hear the grating roar 
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, 
At their return, up the high strand, 
Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 
The eternal note of sadness in.

Explanatory Word-Meanings:

Spray = sprinkling of water. Ebb = tide. Moon - blenched sand = sand looking white in the moonlight. Grating roar = harsh sound. Pebbles = small stones. Fling = throw. Strand = sandy shore of a sea. Cease = stop. Tremulous = vibrating. Cadence = musical sound. Eternal = never ending.


The poet addresses his beloved and makes a request to her to come to the window and enjoy the sweet air blowing in the moonlit night. The sea is perfectly tranquil in the moonlight but the silence of the night and the serenity of the sea are disturbed by the receding tide which is rolling over the moonlit sand and spraying sea water high and low, left and right. The action and the reaction between the sea - waves and the pebbles produce a harsh and unpleasant sound. The vibrating slow musical sound of the waves bring to the poet the never - ending note of sadness. It fills the poet's heart with sadness which is in keeping with his temper and age.

Stanza 3:

Sophocles long ago 
Heard it on the Aegean and it brought  
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow 
Of human misery; we 
Find also in the sound a thought, 
Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 

Explanatory Word-Meanings: 

Sophocles = a Greek dramatist. Aegean = the sea near Greece. Turbid = confused. Ebb and flow = tide. Misery = great suffering of body or mind.


The eternal note of sadness which the poet hears in the receding tide playing with the pebbles on the moon - blenched sands was heard by Sophocles also long ago on the sea near Greece. The ebb and flow of the sea water brought into his mind the idea of human sufferings which he incorporated in his tragedies. One who sees the distant northern sea acting and reacting with the pebbles and spraying water all around feels the same melancholy thoughts. The tragic spirit in Sophocles was inspired by the vibrating slow music of the tide in the same way as the poet himself is inspired to feel the note of sadness emanating  from Dover Beach.

Stanza 4: 

The sea of faith 
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore 
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd 
But now I only hear 
Its melancholy long, withdrawing roar, 
Retreating to the breath 
Of the night - wind, down the vast edges drear 
And naked shingles of the world: 

Explanatory Word-Meanings:

Girdle = ornament of the waist. Furled = rolled up. Melancholy = sadness. Withdrawing = receding. Roar = howling sound. Retreating= going back. Edges = sharp borders. Drear= dullness. Shingles = small, flat pieces of stone.


The note of sadness is heard everywhere because people have lost their faith in religion and God. There was a time when people were cheerful because of their faith in the values of life. But now melancholy has gripped them because their minds are full of doubts and scepticism raised and reared by scientific materialism. The poet compares faith to a sea. It was once full and perfect. It lay round the earth like a girdle rolled up. But now it is receding and producing sad notes. In the same way faith is withdrawing itself from the world leaving place for doubts, disbeliefs and scepticism. 

Stanza 5: 

Ah, love, let us be true 
To one another, for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams, 
So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, 
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; 
And we are here as on a darkling plain 
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, 
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Explanatory Word-Meanings:

Certitude= conviction. Darkling = in darkness. Alarm = warning. Ignorant armies = majority of people who do not know what they are doing.


In the absence of faith in religion and God, our life which is very beautiful, fresh and various and which looks like a land of dreams, has no joy, no light, no peace. Without love and sympathy, light and joy, it is like a dark land where people are running helter - skelter without knowing exactly what they are doing.

Critical Appreciation of the Poem:


Dover Beach is a representative poem of Arnold. It was published in 1887. This poem is a sad musing on the life of the Victorian Age marked throughout by the prominence of the spirit of inquiry and criticism, by scepticism and religious uncertainty, and by spiritual struggle and unrest. The revolution brought about by the doctrine of Evolution affected all current ideas about nature, man and society and made life hollow. 

Thought – content: 

Standing on the beach at Dover, the poet hears the eternal note of sadness in the slow tremulous cadence of the sea waves. He hears the same note which Sophocles heard on the Aegean Sea centuries ago. He feels that the fundamental cause of sadness is the loss of faith in religion and God. In the absence of faith, truth, love, light and peace, the earth has become a waste - land where people are struggling with one another and running helter - skelter without knowing what exactly they are doing. 


This is a reflective poem of four stanzas of unequal length. It is composed in free verse having irregular rhymes. 


The words selected for the purpose are appropriate and expressions apt. Similes and metaphors have also been used in the poem very effectively. 

A note of melancholy: 

Melancholy is the key - note of the poem. The poet is unhappy to note that our life has become hollow in the absence of faith in religion and God. He writes: 

“.......... for the world, which seems 
To lie before us like a land of dreams, 
So various, so beautiful, so new, 
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, 
Not certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain. " 


Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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