Arnold/Toplady Essay

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Arnold/Toplady Essay

By | May 2012
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Matthew Arnold’s famous poem “Dover Beach” contrasts strongly and in many ways with Augustus Toplady’s hymn “If, on a Quiet Sea,” particularly in its attitude toward religious faith. Arnold’s poem expresses great doubts about the future of religion; Toplady’s hymn is a fervent expression of faith. The tone of Arnold’s poem is therefore melancholy, while the tone of Toplady’s hymn is optimistic and hopeful. Other contrasts between the two poems, especially as they relate to religious faith, include the following: Arnold’s poem presents a speaker addressing another human being, not God. Toplady’s hymn presents a speaker directly addressing God himself and thus confident in God’s existence. Arnold’s speaker speaks solely for himself, thus suggesting his sense of isolation and his attempt to overcome it. Toplady’s speaker is a spokesman for himself and others, who are joined in a common faith and a common devotion to God. Arnold’s depiction of the “Sea of Faith” (21) is dark and pessimistic: . . . I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating . . . (24-26)

Toplady, on the other hand, uses the sea as a metaphor for the course of life, and he proclaims on behalf of his fellow Christians that not only can they gratefully accept the good times and pleasures of life (“the favoring gale” [5]) but that they can also accept and deal with any “tempest” or “storm” that might drive them closer to “home” with God (7-10). Arnold’s poem gives voice to profound doubt, as when his speaker says that this world, which seems So various, so beautiful, so new

Hath really neither, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain . . . (32-34) [emphasis added] In contrast, Toplady’s hymn expresses faith in God’s ability to grant real peace to the human heart: Soon shall our doubts and fears all yield to Thy control;

Thy tender mercies shall illume
The midnight of the soul. (11-13)

Significantly, Toplady does not deny that “doubts and fears”...
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