In “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold’s use of diction and imagery reveal the overall pessimistic tone of the poem.
The use of diction brings the reader toward two separate tones, yet they uniquely contribute to general feeling of pessimism that Matthew Arnold portrays. In the first stanza, the “calm” sea brings a feeling of peacefulness. Since it is not turbulent, but rather serene and still, the calmness of the sea evokes feelings of harmony. This tone is set to show the value and possibilities of a peaceful life, portrayed through a silent sea. In addition, the reader also experiences a sense of stability in the “cliffs.” Since they are solid and unchanging, they create a reassuring sense of permanence as they stand against the calming sea. Therefore, as the author experiences such feelings looking through the window, they create a sense of understanding at what Matthew Arnold sees when he is able to see the earth as a calming, stable place.
Yet this image rapidly changes as the reader is left with a somber tone through descriptions of a “tremulous” rhythm that brings “eternal…sadness” to once peaceful sea. It is clear that the author has a sense of fear that is brought on by such unpleasant sounds. They remind him of a change that will not cease, and cannot be ignored. Additionally, descriptions of the human state as “turbid” bring thoughts of darkness and confusion. Unlike the state of peace he used to experience, he now sees life as being so clouded and dense that it appears dark and unsure. The darkness and fogginess of his own life are seen through the density of the sea. He views life pessimistically, for he can no longer see his way through the fog. Yet there is a hope in the prevailing image of peacefulness,