Matthew Arnold addresses a number of what he considers fundamental flaws in English culture in relation to modernity. In Culture and Anarchy, He speaks of the need for men to live in “sweetness and light” with each other and working to fulfill the “will of God” and let it prevail in this culture (p.1596). The converse of the life in sweetness and light, is presented as one “who works for machinery, he who works for hatred.” The message which comes across is that of the machine — and the fast-paced modern life — being associated with both hatred for fellow man and lack of faith in God. With the rise of technology and science in this era, there was surely a challenge to many’s faith in God, and Arnold presents this as a having serious implications for the English society.
“Dover Beach” likewise touches upon these opposing images of sweetness and light, versus man’s growing reliance upon the modern world and losing sight of God. The first stanza opens by describing peaceful, beautiful seaside, and ends with an “eternal note of sadness” as the reality of man’s misguided path toward less pure ideals – this “human misery” – sets in. Beginning in Line 21, the issue is spelled out: “The Sea of Faith” – man’s faith in God – was once a loud and “full” reality, but now is only a “melancholy” and “withdrawing roar.” Arnold ends that though beautiful and seemingly full of joy, this world is truly misguided, shrouded in darkness and war, “where ignorant armies clash by night.”