In Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach," he uses the evolutionary symbol of the sea, or water. It goes from being just the sea, to a mythological type of a sea, to a personified sea. In this way, Arnold almost maps out his love for this unidentified audience in the poem.
In the first stanza, the sea is almost like two separate parts. Arnold definitely uses contradictory diction to create this two-pieced ocean. In line one, the "sea is calm," in line five, it is tranquil. But all of a sudden in line seven, it shoots a "line of spray." Usually, calm seas do not shoot spray. Also in line nine, the waves upon the beach create a "grating roar," in line ten, they fling, and eventually in line thirteen and the sea becomes melancholy sea once again, "With tremulous cadence slow." These contradictory images show somewhat a relationship between to human beings, with the beginning perfect stages moving toward a somewhat turbulent end. .
In the second stanza, Arnold uses a place of mythological beginnings to set the scene: the Aegean Sea. This sea is a very dirty, dense sea, "turbid," in Arnold's words. (Line 17) It shows the state of humanity miserable. The second stanza also seems to detach the speaker from Dover Beach, when he calls the sea "northern and distant." In his reference to Sophocles" play Antigone, Arnold says that Sophocles heard the "eternal note of sadness" and it reminds him of how humans suffer and are miserable. (Line 14).
In stanza three, the sea is personified, "The Sea of Faith."(Line 21) The speaker of the poem says that it use to be full, but now it seems as if its empty and, once again, melancholy. This stanza seems to be that hanging on part of a relationship Arnold is searching; much like the Sea of Faith, for a place to hold on to what he has his own "naked shingles."(Line 28) This Sea of Faith, now empty and melancholy, seems to be Arnold's view on life, or events taking place around him.