Dover Beach Theme Imagery and Sound

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In "Dover Beach," Matthew Arnold creates a monologue that shows how perceptions can be misleading. The theme of illusion versus reality in "Dover Beach" reflects the speaker's awareness of the incompatibility between what is perceived and what truly is real. Arnold conveys the theme of "Dover Beach" through three essential developments. First, he uses visual imagery. Second, he uses sound (aural) imagery. Third, he uses rhythm and metric. These mechanics alone do not explain why illusion and reality differ, but they do help to explain how Arnold sets up the poem to support the theme.The strongest support of the theme comes from its intense imagery which is scattered throughout "Dover Beach." The most affecting image is the sea. The sea includes the visual imagery, used to express illusion, as well as the auditory imagery, used to express reality. The image is intensely drawn by Arnold to vividly see the faith disappearing from the speaker's world. The image of darkness encompasses the speaker's life just like the night wind pushes the clouds in to change a bright, calm sea into dark, "naked shingles." The irony of "Dover Beach" lies in the contrasting elements of the troubled speaker and the calm sea with tranquil moonlight. For example, the moonlit cliffs of the first stanza appear again in the lines "for the world/Which lies before us like a land of dreams. The sea which begins calm and tranquil, becomes a roaring shore; with "naked shingles" and "night-wind" which in turn disrupts the speaker's faith. The symbolism of the speaker's faith, as well as light and dark, reinforce the theme of illusion versus reality. The illusionary quality of the sea infers how very shaky and insecure the speaker's faith has become. In line 21, the speaker refers to the sea as a metaphoric "sea of faith." This symbol represents the illusion of the speaker's faith. The reality of his lack of faith becomes apparent in lines 25 through 28. The speaker explains on how that once great and calm sea of faith has turned into a roaring, dark, windy, dreary, and gravely bench. In reality, the speaker's faith disappears with only darkness to replace it; a powerful symbol of disillusionment which sets the mood for the rest of the poem. In stanza 3, the simile "like the folds of a bright girdle furled" (Line 13) contrasts with "Vast edges drear/And naked shingles of the world" (Lines 27-28)The speaker's problem also appears in the sounds of the words throughout the poem. The consonant quality of the g and the r in "grating roar" (line 9) takes on an auditory quality, whereas the previous stanza displayed visual qualities. The grating and roaring pebbles produce sound while the calm sea and glimmering French coast produce a visual effect. In line 13, the words "tremulous cadence slow" slows the reader with the...

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