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Metaphor in Dover Beach and Selected Poems

Metaphor Examples in Dover Beach and Selected Poems:

Dover Beach

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"a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night...."   (Dover Beach)

The adjective “darkling” refers to that which is dark, in the dark, or in a state of darkening—all of which could apply to the “plain” in this line. The speaker envisions the night-cloaked seascape as a battleground. The sounds of the waves are once again personified, in his case as the “confused alarms” raised by “ignorant armies.” The clash can be interpreted in several ways. In one sense, it expresses the tone of unease and dread. On a somewhat more literal level, the clash might symbolize the struggles the speaker has referred to, namely those over faith. Taken in this context, the clashing armies represent the two sides of the debate over faith as it plays out, both in society and within the speaker himself. Crucially, both armies are “ignorant,” leaving readers with no sense of righteousness or resolution.

"roar,..."   (Dover Beach)

This line combines the two metaphors previously built around the sea: the sea as religious faith and the sea as having a voice. Here the sea represents both. The “melancholy long withdrawing roar” is an utterance of the personified sea, though the cause of the roar is the decline of the sea-as-faith.

"round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd...."   (Dover Beach)

Arnold develops the metaphor of the “Sea of Faith,” describing how it “was once[…] at the full.” Arnold appends this with the metaphor of faith as “the folds of a bright girdle furl’d,” holding together the earth in a coherent embrace. One of the themes of the poem is the waning of religious beliefs and values during the 19th century. Whereas religious faith had been a relatively ubiquitous part of British and European culture in the centuries leading up to the Victorian era, new advances in scientific understanding began to create widespread religious doubt. Many critics view “Dover Beach” as a reaction to these advances, namely the theory of evolution. However, Arnold neither cites these advances nor presents arguments in favor or against them; rather, he laments the loss of the certainty and coherence afforded by faith.

"The Sea of Faith..."   (Dover Beach)

In this stanza, Arnold introduces the “Sea of Faith,” a central theme and metaphor in the poem. The metaphor of religious faith as a sea suggests its vast, encompassing nature.

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