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Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach

More questions of an easier nature!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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"Dover Beach" was written in 1867 and paints a picture of what has been described as a "nightmarish world" from which the once powerful forces of Christianity has withdrawn.

The poet was looking over the English Channel from the cliffs at Dover and listening to the sad sound of the waves rushing in over the pebble beach below.

The sound, he said, was described by the ancient Greeks as a reminder of human misery. It was also like the "Sea of Faith" which was now ebbing after nearly two millennia of expansion.

The poet called on his loved one to remain firm or else it would be difficult to stay faithful to truth in the troubled world where there are never-ending rumours of war.


Matthew Arnold was born in December 1822, the son of the headmaster of the now famous Rugby School.

He was initially tutored at Rugby but, in 1841, began studying at Oxford University where he graduated in 1844.

He started teaching at Rugby but, in 1847, became Private Secretary to Lord Lansdowne who was Lord President of the Council. It was then that he published his first book of poetry.

Arnold soon took up a position as an inspector of schools and, because of the increased salary, almost immediately married Frances Wightman with whom he had six children.

He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1857 and was apparently the first man to deliver his lectures in English instead of Latin.

In 1883 and 1884, he toured the United States where he delivered lectures on education and democracy. He retired from school inspection in 1886 but, just two years later, he suffered a heart attack and died. He was then 66 years of age.

Arnold is heralded today -- along with Tennyson and Browning -- as one of the great Victorian poets although his poetry received only mediocre reviews during his own lifetime.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery.
  • Who was Sophocles? What was his relationship to the Aegean? (2)

[Need help?]

  • The word "turbid" in this stanza means:
    A. thick, dark or murky;
    B. bright;
    C. cold and miserable;
    D. rough waves.

[Need help?]

  • What is "ebb and flow"? (2)

[Need help?]

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.
  • What figure of speech is the poet using when he says that "the Sea of Faith was once, too, at the full"? Explain. (4)

[Need help?]

  • What figure of speech is the poet using when he says that the Sea of Faith lay "like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd"? What is being compared to what? (4)

[Need help?]

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
  • The word "melancholy" means:
    A. overwhelming happiness;
    B. jubilation;
    C. a great sadness;
    D. very depressed.

[Need help?]

  • List TWO words which tells you that the author believes religion is having a smaller and smaller impact on modern society. (2)

[Need help?]

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.
  • The poet appears to be referring to a war. What words suggest this? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What war would the poet be referring to? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the author suggest that the world "hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain"? (4)

[Need help?]

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