Matthew Arnold Poems
Matthew Arnold’s Crisis of Faith
The Victorian Period of British Literature involved many changes in British culture; one of the defining qualities of Queen Victoria’s reign was a loss of faith in the Church. A number of social changes caused an increasing number of people to question their faith and leave organized religion, resulting in the “crises of faith” that were becoming more common among the population. English poet Matthew Arnold’s “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse” best exemplifies the many crises of faith experienced by Englishmen during the Victorian Age through Arnold’s use of description and metaphors. “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse” takes place in a monastery in the French Alps. Arnold’s work describes the crisis of faith he has been experiencing. Arnold does not return to the monastery to recover his lost faith in Christianity; he instead chooses to write about his struggle with any kind of faith. Throughout the poem, he makes it clear that he will not and cannot return to the Christian Church.
Upon entering the monastery, Arnold begins to reminisce about youth and his eventual crisis of faith. He recalls how “rigorous teachers seized [his] youth” (67) and indoctrinated him into the Christian faith. Arnold hears his former teachers speaking to him in the monastery. They ask him, “What dost thou in this living tomb?” (72). The reason for Arnold’s visit to the monastery is called into question. Matthew responds to this question in the lines following the inquery. In his response, Arnold first seeks forgiveness for visiting the monastery; he writes, “Forgive me Masters of the Mind! At whose behest I long ago so much unlearnt, and so much resigned – I come not here to be your foe” (73-76). Arnold seeks forgiveness from the great minds of the Victorian Age. For Arnold, men and women like Charles Lyell, the author of Principles of Geology, have defeated the notion that religion is necessary to explain the world. These writers “persuaded Arnold that faith in Christianity was no longer tenable in the modern world” (Norton 1390). Arnold believes that he is offending these men by being at the monastery. This shows that Arnold holds these intellectuals in higher regard than the Christian God he once believed in. He asserts that he is no longer Christian. Arnold is visitor to the monastery as one would be to “some fallen Runic stones” (83). He is visiting the monastery as a historical place, like an old Nordic monument depicting a now-dead religion (Norton 1390). Speaking of Christianity and Nordic religion, Arnold writes, “For both were faiths, and both are gone” (84). Arnold believes Christianity is reaching its end and will soon be viewed as any other ancient religion, such as the Nordic religion. Arnold later writes that he is with the “last of the people who believe” (112). Arnold makes it clear that this is not a trip to restore his lost faith; he is here to visit a part of history that no longer holds any control over him. In the monastery, Arnold finds himself, “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born, with nowhere yet to rest his head” (85-87). The old age of Christianity (and similar organized religions) is over, but Arnold is unable to define his faith, or lack thereof, as a particular system of belief. The new age of reason has yet to be defined and named; it is still unborn. Until the new system is born, Arnold finds himself searching to be a part of something. He will not go back to his old Christian ways, so he must “wander” (85) until the new system is born.
Arnold suffers from not being a part of the Christian faith. He describes his suffering as a “holy pain” (92). Many believe the pain “is a passed mode, an outworn theme” (100), but Arnold’s pain is “[restless]” (104). If the pain is not eased, Arnold would rather die with the last of the Christians (109-111). Death is preferable to Arnold’s painful wandering between two worlds. Even after death, this pain continues. Other men have felt such pain and it remains long after their deaths. Arnold writes, “Say, is life lighter now than then? The sufferers died, they left their pain – The pangs which tortured them remain” (130-132). Generations of men have experienced the transition Arnold is going through now, yet they resolved nothing during their lives. Arnold also references the Romantics while he visits the monastery. He specifically refers to Byron (133) and Shelley (139) specifically. Arnold believes that their works, although beautiful, did little to ease this pain felt by many. For Arnold, Byron merely shared his “bleeding heart” (136) and “Europe made his woe her own” (138). Future generations will read Byron’s and Shelley’s work, but Arnold wonders if the “inheritors of [their] distress have restless hearts one throb the less?” (143-144). Romanticism is dead and its writers “slumber in [their] silent grave[s]” (151). Further writing to the Romantics, Arnold claims, “The world, which idle for a day Grace to your mood of sadness gave, Long hath flung her weeds away… But we learnt your lore too well” (149-156). After the death of Romanticism, the world moved on, but many people continued to read the Romantics, trapped in a state of suffering. Byron, Shelley, and the other Romantics share similar feelings with Arnold, but this does not help Arnold escape the pain. The Romantics described suffering, but did little to combat it. Although Arnold finds their works are beautiful and praise worthy, the Romantics did nothing to alleviate the suffering of man. Arnold then describes then describes the waiting process again. He does not know how it will be until the new age begins. He believes that “years hence, perhaps, may dawn an age, More fortunate, alas! Than we, Which without hardness will be sage, And gay without frivolity” (157-160). Arnold knows the process could be long and he asks the younger generations to bring about change quickly; he writes, “Sons of the world, oh, speed those years; But while we wait, allow our tears!” (161-162). Arnold needs to suffer and seeks permission to cry while he waits for change to come.
Arnold, while he wanders in suffering, admires those who find tranquility in religious beliefs. He does not seek to end Christianity or any other religions, rather he writes, “Allow them! We admire with awe The exulting thunder of your race; You give the universe your law, You triumph over time and space!” (163-166). Arnold admires the religious because they believe they have control over the universe. Arnold wishes he could live that way, but he cannot go back. Arnold says to them, “Your pride of life, your tireless powers, We laud them, but they are not ours” (167-168). He praises those who are strongly religious, but they live a lifestyle he cannot return to. Even though he may not believe, he does not disrespect those who do. Arnold continues his writing with a metaphor. He uses a simile to compare himself to “children reared in shade Beneath some old-world abbey wall” (169-170). Arnold’s situation is similar to that of the children because they are trapped within a certain lifestyle. Arnold cannot go back to the religious life and the children cannot leave the abbey. They are “forgotten in a forest glade, And secret from the eyes of all. Deep, deep the greenwood round them waves, Their abbey, and its close of graves” (171-174). The children live in the abbey and will likely die in the abbey. Arnold live in his state of wandering and he will likely die in that same state of wandering. Further, the children have little to no adventure in their lives. They hear a call to action (192) but they reply, “Action and pleasure, will ye roam Through these secluded dells to cryand call us? – but too late ye come!” (194-196). The abbey children have already had their lives planned out. They cannot accept the call to action because it comes to them too late. They are destined to live and die in the abbey, rarely doing anything exciting. They further respond to the call, saying, “Too late for us your call ye blow, Whose bent was taken long ago (197-198). Their bent, or “natural inclination” (Norton 1393), was taken long ago by the authorities in the abbey. Naturally, they would accept a call to action, but they have been conditioned to reject such a call. They are trapped within the abbey much like Arnold is trapped in his state of wandering and suffering. Arnold, like the children in the abbey, just wants peace in his life. They children are “fenced early in this cloistral round Of reverie, of shade, of prayer” (205-206). They cannot escape their position, in which they have been stuck for a prolonged period of time. They ask that the “banners, pass, and bugles, cease; and leave [their] desert to its peace!” (209-210). The children are tormented by the outside sounds of lives they will never be able to live because they are stuck in the abbey; similarly, Arnold hears the calls of the abbey to return to a religious life. Like the children, Arnold cannot accept the call of the Christian Church because he is trapped in his state of wandering and suffering. Like the children in the abbey who are conditioned to not accept their calls to action, Arnold will not allow himself to accept the Christian faith.
Through his poetry, Matthew Arnold highlights many of the struggles faced by Victorians who experienced crises of faith. The Victorian Age brought many social changes and one of the areas most greatly affected was religion. Scientific publications, like Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, revolutionized many people’s ways of thinking. God was no longer the answer to everything. Science often conflicted with religious teachings. Because of this, Many people began leaving the Church and organized religion began dying. In response to this growing religious crisis, many Victorians responded with their experiences with their individual struggles with faith. A large number of Victorian authors wrote about their crises of faith, but none better exemplifies the experience than Matthew Arnold. Matthew Arnold’s “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse” best shows an individual’s crisis of faith because of Arnold’s use of description and metaphors in his writing.
A Critical Study of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”
Famous poet and literary critic, Matthew Arnold was born on 24th December 1822 as the second child of Mary Arnold and Thomas Arnold. He began his career as a poet, getting recognition since his youth as a student at the Rugby School, where his father was a headmaster who was well known for his administration of the school. Arnold completed his undergraduate degree at Oxford in 1844 and returned to Rugby School as a teacher. In June 1851, he married Frances Lucy, daughter of Sir William Wightman, after finally being appointed as one of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools, thus solving his problem of financial instability that had long restrained him from getting married. He is considered by some as the third great Victorian poet, along with Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. He gained significance in English Literature not only as a poet but also as a great critic, whose criticism focuses on various branches of learning: literature, journalism, and social science, as well as religion. Even after his sudden and untimely death due to heart failure in 1888, Arnold’s position in English literature as a remarkable Victorian writer, poet, and critic remains unchanged.
“Dover Beach,” though originally published in 1867, is believed to have been written around the year 1851. The poem is set near Dover, a town in South East England, where the poet and his wife Frances Lucy spent their honeymoon in 1851. Thus, this arrangement establishes the popular presumption that the characters in this poem, the speaker and the silent listener, are the poet and his wife themselves. The poem, despite its use of simple language and ordinary setting, is not an easy one to analyze. It takes the form of a dramatic monologue, a type of lyric poem very commonly used and perfected by Robert Browning, where the poem is constituted by a speech of the character with a silent audience. However, unlike Browning’s famous dramatic monologues, the poem is commonly considered to be spoken by the poet himself and not by a fictional character. The poem is characterized by numerous metaphors and vivid imagery; beginning with a line “The sea is calm tonight” (Arnold 1), followed by a detailed and lucid description of the setting, the image drawn by the beginning lines is quite a vivid one. Through these simple yet strong lines, Arnold first gives his readers a clear description of the setting where the poem is being written i.e. one night at the beach of Dover, overlooking the calm sea, viewing the full tide and fair moon. The power of visual imagery dominates these beginning lines as the poet continues to give a yet more explicit detail to describe the location, a place where he can see the light gleaming on the French coast, with the vast cliffs of England standing tall, glimmering “out in the tranquil bay” (Arnold 5). This description adds very patent details on the geographical location of the setting. The first stanza, which comprises 14 lines, towards the middle gives an introduction of a listener, whom the poet has asked to “come to the window” (Arnold 6), following this we see a shift from the visual imagery of the beginning lines to aural imageries. The poet asks his listener to listen to the “grating roar” (Arnold 9) of pebbles, giving such powerful description to a sound created by something as trivial as pebbles, the narrative tone can be seen shifting from the subtle, vivid, and simple description of the setting seen in the beginning lines to a much more exaggerated, aggressive, and melancholic tone towards the end of the stanza.
The poem is characterized by numerous metaphors and vivid imagery, beginning with a line “The sea is calm tonight” (Arnold 1), followed by a detailed and lucid description of the setting, the image drawn by the beginning lines is quite a vivid one. Through these simple yet strong lines, Arnold first gives his readers a clear description of the setting where the poem is being written i.e. one night at the beach of Dover, overlooking the calm sea, viewing the full tide and fair moon. The power of visual imagery dominates these beginning lines as the poet continues to give a yet more explicit detail to describe the location: a place where he can see the light gleaming on the French coast, with the vast cliffs of England standing tall, glimmering “out in the tranquil bay” (Arnold 5). This description adds very patent details on the geographical location of the setting. The first stanza, which comprises 14 lines, towards the middle, gives an introduction of a listener whom the poet has asked to “come to the window” (Arnold 6), following this we see a shift from the visual imagery of the beginning lines to aural imageries. The poet asks his listener to listen to the “grating roar” (Arnold 9) of pebbles, giving such powerful description to a sound created by something as trivial as pebbles, the narrative tone can be seen shifting from the subtle, vivid, and simple description of the setting seen in the beginning lines to a much more exaggerated, aggressive, and melancholic tone towards the end of the stanza. “He takes us, as it were, by verbal storm, and the force of what he says becomes for the moment out understanding of what he says.” (Buckler 103). What started as a serene naturalistic scene with its presentation of a somewhat beautiful location with tranquil imagery, ended with a melancholic description of the waves violently bringing in the “eternal note of sadness” (Arnold 14). The following stanza took on the same melancholic tone with which the first stanza ended; by bringing in a Greek allusion of the great classical figure Sophocles, Arnold draws a connection between himself and the great dramatist. He talks of Sophocles contemplating human misery through the “ebb and flow” (Arnold 17) of the Aegean sea like he himself is doing in this poem. The third stanza opens with an introduction to the calm English Channel of the preceding stanzas as a metaphorical “Sea of Faith” (Arnold 21), which was once, like the beginning of the poem, “at the full”, giving an introduction to the poem’s central idea of the withering faith of the Christian society during Arnold’s time. The poet tells the listener of how he now only hears the melancholy of this “Sea of Faith” (Arnold 21), once risen at its full now retreating with a “withdrawing roar”.
The final stanza is often claimed by some to be a separate poem as there is a shift in the narrative tone. However, this stanza can still be connected to the previous stanzas; with a different view of the world after the death of Christian faith seen in the first three stanzas, the poet requests his listener to be true to him, as he will be to her, as that seems to be the only thing that matters to him now that the world seems hopeless and devoid of true joy. The poem, being one of Arnold’s most significant poems, has received several critical appraisals, most of which are contradictory to one another. However, the recurring theme of melancholy that usually constitutes most of his works is undeniably evident in this poem as well. “There is,…, the well known Arnold melancholy: the man of little faith in a world of no faith, who still hopes to maintain the spiritual dignity which the world of no faith seems to deny him.” (Krierger 40). The poem is often read as a record of the changes in viewpoint and belief brought about by the New Science of the mid-nineteenth century. The discovery of fossils by Charles Lylell dating back more than a million years ago, brought about a doubt on the traditional belief that the earth is a creation of just a few six or seven thousand years old, as is seen on the Bible. In addition to this, various scientists like Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace had stated their theories on the evolution of mankind, contradicting the Christian belief that human beings were created by an omnipotent God. Such findings and theories, though rejected by many, still gained numerous following, resulting in a change in the beliefs of a large section of the population. This dying faith in the traditional beliefs of Christianity is what constitutes the main theme of the poem
The poem, being one of Arnold’s most significant poems, has received several critical appraisals, most of which are contradictory to one another. However, the recurring theme of melancholy that usually constitutes most of his works is undeniably evident in this poem as well. “There is,…, the well known Arnold melancholy: the man of little faith in a world of no faith, who still hopes to maintain the spiritual dignity which the world of no faith seems to deny him.” (Krierger 40). The poem is often read as a record of the changes in viewpoint and belief brought about by the New Science of the mid-nineteenth century. The discovery of fossils by Charles Lylell dating back more than a million years ago, brought about a doubt on the traditional belief that the earth is a creation of just a few six or seven thousand years old, as is seen on the Bible. In addition to this, various scientists like Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace had stated their theories on the evolution of mankind, contradicting the Christian belief that human beings were created by an omnipotent God. Such findings and theories, though rejected by many, still gained numerous following, resulting in a change in the beliefs of a large section of the population. This dying faith in the traditional beliefs of Christianity is what constitutes the main theme of the poem Dover Beach. Arnold in this poem, uses the naturalistic setting of Dover beach to metaphorically express this ‘dying faith’ and the despair it brings along to his heart, as well as the way this new light darkened his view towards life. Arnold seem to have been affected immensely by the “withdrawing roar” (Arnold 25) of the “Sea of Faith” (Arnold 21), causing him eternal sadness, which can be seen in his description of his view towards life in the final stanza.
As have been mentioned before, a gradual shift in the setting and narrative tone can be detected from the beginning till the end: first, starting with simple and serene visual imagery of naturalistic setting with no sign of an underlying theme, switching to a more exaggerated and complicated use of aural imagery, with no change in setting and subject matter, finally ending with a melancholic and hopeless emotional outpouring of the poet. This style is often adopted by Arnold in his other works as well, “In this poem, however, the development from the natural scene to the human levels into which it opens is much more successfully handled than elsewhere in his works.” (Krierger 41). Despite the change in setting, these stanzas are not divided into diverse sections lacking any connection; every stanza, from the first till the last are significantly connected. Throughout the poem, the poet uses the natural setting of the English Channel mentioned in the first stanza, even when the tone changes, the same subject matter is still used as a metaphor to introduce us to the ‘dying faith’ which the poet attempts to speak of, and later this natural setting recurred when the poet refers to these “land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new” (Arnold 31-32) as lacking an essence of true joy, so as to express his “eternal note of sadness” (Arnold 14). His love for nature is clearly evident from the poem, “His passion for natural scenery was, indeed, Arnold’s strongest aesthetic emotion.”(David 5). This recurring use of nature to express the emotional anguish, through a very simple narrative technique, reinstates Arnolds identity as a Victorian artist often considered to be a bridge between Romanticism and Modernism. “ The speaker of Dover Beach is an embodiment of Romanticism in its most alluring and devastating modern form-existential despair- that Classicism in its most austere and most strengthening ancient form constructively contradicts.”(Buckler 105). The poem is written with a nostalgia towards the classical notion of religion, as well as the romantic idea of love and the emotional connectedness which he believes can gain him the values which had started to fade away with his venture into the new ‘modern world’. “The general decline of faith and Arnold’s own resultant bewilderment and melancholy” (Jump 36), as well as, “the belief that in a successful love-relationship he may discover values which are not readily to be found in ‘modern life’” (Jump 36), constitute this poem. The poem with its Romantic use of simple language and natural setting, expressing so beautifully the agony of the ‘dying faith’ and the darkness it gave to the poet’s perception of the whole world, while hinting a little glimmer of hope attainable through his lover, gives a subtle Romantic element to the poet’s eternal melancholy which drives the whole poem. The vivid imagery of the poet, causing us to experience and feel his gradually shifting mood through the whole poem, has rightly earned its position as one of Arnold’s greatest poems.
Arnold’s poem is written with a nostalgia towards the classical notion of religion, as well as the romantic idea of love and the emotional connectedness which he believes can gain him the values which had started to fade away with his venture into the new ‘modern world’. “The general decline of faith and Arnold’s own resultant bewilderment and melancholy” (Jump 36), as well as, “the belief that in a successful love-relationship he may discover values which are not readily to be found in ‘modern life’” (Jump 36), constitute this poem. The poem with its Romantic use of simple language and natural setting, expressing so beautifully the agony of the ‘dying faith’ and the darkness it gave to the poet’s perception of the whole world, while hinting a little glimmer of hope attainable through his lover, gives a subtle Romantic element to the poet’s eternal melancholy which drives the whole poem. The vivid imagery of the poet, causing us to experience and feel his gradually shifting mood through the whole poem, has rightly earned its position as one of Arnold’s greatest poems.
Works cited Arnold, Matthew. “Dover Beach”. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. N.d. Web. 23 May 2016. Buckler, William. E.
Buckler, William. E. On the Poetry of Matthew Arnold : Essays in Critical Reconstruction. New York: Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data. 1982. Print. David, C.
David, C. Matthew Arnold: A Critical Study. New Delhi: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2007. Print. Jump, J.D. “Dover Beach”.
Jump, J.D. “Dover Beach”. Critics on Matthew Arnold. Ed. Jacqueline F.M.Latham. Plymouth: Clarke, Doble & Brendon Ltd. 1973. 36-39. Print. Krierger, Murray. “Dover Beach and the Tragic Sense of Eternal Recurrence”.
Krierger, Murray. “Dover Beach and the Tragic Sense of Eternal Recurrence”. Critics on Matthew Arnold. Ed. Jacqueline F.M. Latham. Plymouth: Clarke, Doble & Brendon Ltd. 1973. 40-47. Print.
Subtle Radicalism in Arnold’s Poetry
Matthew Arnold was born in 1822 in Laleham-on-Thames in Middlesex County, England. Due to some temporary childhood leg braces, (Machann, 1) and a competitiveness within the large family of nine (Culler xxi) young Matthew earned the nickname “Crabby”. His disposition was described as active, but since his athletic pursuits were somewhat hindered by this correction of a “bent leg” (Machann 1), intellectual pursuits became more accessible to him. This may have led him to a literary career, but both his parents were literary (his mother wrote occasional verse and kept a journal, Machann 1) and scholarly, also, and this may have been what helped to accomplish the same aim. His father, Thomas Arnold, was a celebrated educator and headmaster of Rugby School, to which Matthew matriculated. He later attended Oxford, and, after a personal secretary-ship to Lord Lansdowne (Machann, 19) he was appointed Inspector of Schools. He spent most of his adult life traveling around England and sometimes the continent observing and reporting on the state of public schools, and his prose on education and social issues continues to be examined today (Machann xi). He also held the Chair of Poetry at Oxford for ten years, and wrote extensive literary criticism (Culler, xxii).Arnold is probably best known today for this passage of his honeymoon-written (Machann, 31) “Dover Beach”, the only poem of Arnold’s which may be called very famous. This is the last stanza of the poem.”Ah, love, let us be trueTo one another! For the world, which seemsTo 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 a on a darkling plainSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night.” (Strand and Boland, 185-186)This poem, a love poem doubtless, in the end directs us to a love beyond all earthly love, and a rejection of the world as a place of illusions. Religion was the central idea of Arnold’s life, but he thought that poetry was an excellent, and, in fact, vital part of the new society, which he thought absolutely necessary to understanding the spiritual component of life. He wrote in his The Study of Poetry, “But for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion to-day is its unconscious poetry.” (463), and “We should conceive of [poetry] as capable of higher uses, and called to higher destinies, than those which in general men have assigned to it hitherto. More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, and to sustain us.” (464).So this poet, who was actually not primarily a professional poet for a large part of his life, but instead accomplished all of his great poetic feats during his time off from his employment inspecting schools (Britannica article), argued that poetry was of paramount importance to everyone, and necessary for spiritual health. What kind of poetry would a man like this write? He naturally excelled at lyric and elegy (Schmidt 486,) but he really thought the truly impersonal epics – the “classic virtues of unity, impersonality, universality, and architectonic power and upon the value of the classical masterpieces” (Britannica article) – were the highest form and the best model of poetry. He wrote some long dramatic and narrative poems, such as “Empedocles on Etna” “Sohrab and Rustum, and “Tristram and Iseult”, with classical and legendary themes. He had a classical education at Rugby and Oxford, but distanced himself from the classics (though he thought of them as being the bastion of sanity (Schmidt 486,) but he was also the first Poetry chair at Oxford to deliver his lectures in English instead of Latin (Culler, xxii)). He gave a lecture “On Translating Homer”, but in it refused to translate it himself, and instead provided criticism on the latest two translations. He was very religious, but also was critical of the established religions of his Victorian time, and wrote “most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry” (Harmon, 464,) which must have been a somewhat shocking claim in his time coming from a man employed in more than one capacity to mold young minds. He was a product of his time, but had deep personal reservations about the state of his world. His poetry has been criticized, even his greatest poems, as being “an allegory of the state of his own mind.” (Culler, xvii). His talents appear to have lain in the personal poems – the lyric and the elegy, such as “Dover Beach”, but his ambitions perhaps lay in what he considered a higher form of poetry – the epic. “Empedocles on Etna”, for example, doesn’t have the immediacy and the musicality of “Dover Beach” or even his famous (at the time) sonnet “Shakespeare”:Others abide our question. Thou art free.We ask and ask – Thou smilest and art still,Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill,Who to the stars uncrown his majesty,Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea,Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place,Spares but the cloudy border of his baseTo the foil’d searching of mortality;And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honour’d, self-secure,Didst tread on earth unguess’d at. – Better so!All pains the immortal spirit must endure,All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow,Find their sole speech in that victorious brow. (Culler 26)This poem has the fourteen lines of a sonnet, and the final rhyming couplet, but has additional stanza breaks that Shakespeare’s sonnets did not. Perhaps in this kind of laudatory poetry (perhaps imitating the original form of classical elegies, which were replete with flatteries) Arnold didn’t think he was worthy to directly imitate his subject’s sonnet form. This example of Arnold’s poetry shows his mastery of language – even awkward constructions like “Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honor’d, self-secure” trip off the tongue and make sense without seeming simplistic. He uses some of Shakespeare’s language (didst, thou,) but doesn’t make this sound like a piece of Elizabethan poetry, either. He brings the reader to think about what in Shakespeare he or she might have read that is “out-topping knowledge.” The comparison in the second stanza is definitely classical in origin (perhaps the Colossus of Rhodes, or the battles of the Titans and the gods in Greek mythology), showing Shakespeare metaphorically large enough to stand on earth and live in heaven. We humans on earth can only contemplate his lower parts, his “base” (Machann says that it is an image of Shakespeare as a “lofty mountain, 15.) It is a good way of capturing the wonder and mystery of great art. We “ask and ask”, as Arnold says, be we don’t fully understand a masterpiece or how its creator made it. Also, it’s just self-conscious enough to show Arnold’s modesty about his own talent. He doesn’t put himself in the class with Shakespeare, or with Homer or writers of the other classical epics. He hasn’t quite reconciled himself, I think, to the idea that the future of poetry lay in the personal, which was a kind of poetry he himself was able to write very well.Arnold’s poetry, especially his lyrics and elegies, are often interesting and thought-provoking. His mastery of English is complete, and his diction shows his full Latin and Greek education, with the deep understanding of the origin of Latinate English words. But he does not shy away from good Anglo-Saxon words, either, like Shakespeare does not, and is fully able to use both high-flown language (such as in Empedocles on Etna, “These rumblings are not Typho’s groans, I know!/These angry smoke-bursts/Are not the passionate breath/Of the mountain-crush’d, tortured, intractable Titan king,” Culler 65) and very simple, lovely images, such as “stars and sunbeams know.” His elegy “Memorial Verses to Wordsworth” is considered one of the best elegies in English. (Schmidt, 485) Arnold was a product of his time — the old Victorian world of religion and classical education – but he also anticipated the new modern focus on self-choice and the value placed on the personal. He was a poetic talent with a flair for thoughtful poems, with the ability to create beautiful and lasting images. Works cited: Machann, C. Matthew Arnold: A Literary Life, New York: St Martin’s Press, 1998″Arnold, Matthew.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 8 Oct. 2006
Where Are the Women?
The dramatic monologue form used by both Robert Browning and Matthew Arnold in their poems My Last Duchess and The Forsaken Merman, respectively, serves to comment upon the condition of a woman without physically introducing a female into the scene. Despite both poems taking place in domestic situations, inside a house and during childcare, no woman is physically present. This may represent a Victorian increase in male domesticity. Yet the dramatic monologue has further purpose: It allows the poets to access traditionally feminine situations through male eyes, without the accompaniment of a female. Such an absence demonstrates the male-dominated attitudes of Victorian writers. Browning’s poem My Last Duchess is a classic example of the dramatic monologue. The speaker, presumably modeled after Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, speaks of a portrait on the wall to a presumed listener whom he urges to “sit and look at her” (Broadview, pg. 280-281). Arnold’s The Forsaken Merman places the speaker as a merman longing for a mortal woman. Although other voices are quoted throughout the poem, they are quoted by the speaker. In both poems, it is the male voice that is heard by the reader. Furthermore, that male voice is speaking directly about a woman in both instances. Browning’s narrator speaks about what appears to be his dead wife, while Arnold’s merman speaks of a woman who has left him. In both cases, the woman is long gone. Interestingly, while Arnold’s merman mourns the loss of his woman, a long-standing literary tradition, Browning gives his reader something very different. Browning’s narrator seems to have been involved in the death of his wife. “This grew; I gave commands;/ Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands/ As if alive” (Broadview 281). Although not explicit about his involvement, the poem’s tone helps establish a slight distrust of the narrator. Browning’s use of rhyming couplets gives the speaker a jovial tone. Yet Browning does not end stop his lines, providing the reader with rhymes that are syntactically internal in the speech. If one were eliminate the line breaks, then one would read the rhyme in the middle of the sentence, not the end. The result is that Browning’s poem hides its rhyme more than its otherwise obvious rhyme would allow for. The reader, if not already suspicious due to the homosocial nature of the arrangement, begins to wonder what else is being hidden by the speaker. On the other hand, Arnold’s The Forsaken Merman contains a very loud rhyme structure, similar to a nursery rhyme. Arnold often end stops his line to add to the effect. In fact, there is only one line that does not end in a punctuation mark throughout the entire first three stanzas. The effect is not aimed at making the reader slow down and appreciate the line but, rather, to create a youthful tone. The listener is supposed to be a child. Therefore, Arnold is effective in making it believable that this is targeted at the child in the poem. He thus is able to have his speaker address the children without any infringement on his masculinity. After all, despite the split of the merman and Margaret, the merman, not the mother, is the one with the children. The reader must assume that Margaret is the mother, “Children’s voices should be dead/ (Call once more) to a mother’s ear” (Brownview 435). Furthermore, the reader knows that Margaret is still alive through the planned visit to the town at the end of the poem; this is not just a case of the father taking over the parental responsibilities after their mother’s death. For a male to care for children was seen as a “feminine,” and therefore circumspect, act. Although the Victorian period saw the “creation of a new ideal of fatherhood,” in divorce cases “it had become morally accepted that it was only right to grant custody of young children to their mother” (http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/collins/tsw1.html 2002). Thus, Arnold’s use of youthful-sounding rhyme makes the scene appear more natural. An attempt to create a natural tone is also apparent in Browning’s poem. Browning’s speaker is not speaking to children. Instead, Browning’s speaker is modeled after a duke, making grand language expected. The poem succeeds in accomplishing this through the use of iambic pentameter. Iambic meter is the rhythm for which normal speech would appear most under scansion. By keeping a regular meter, Browning gives the impression of an educated, prepared speaker. This impression lends credibility to the idea of the male speaker attempting to persuade another male about taking the hand of his listener’s master’s daughter. Furthermore, Browning breaks his iambic pentameter in interesting places in order to emphasize certain areas of the poem. There are only two lines in the 56-line poem that are metrically different than the rest. The first, “Would draw from her alike the approving speech”, is easy enough to spot with its eleven syllables (versus the ten syllable standard) (Brownview 281). The second, “This sort of trifiling? Even had you skill,” is harder to spot, yet metrically contains a spondee at the end of the line. The two variations come at moments when the speaker is talking about speech itself. Browning has put the emphasis on the power of rhetoric while demonstrating how rhetorically his speaker can get away with murder, literally. The second variant, line 35, makes the connection between his trifling with his late wife and his skill in speech. The reader becomes more suspicious of him as he denies, in perfect iambic pentameter, that he has any skill in speaking. Browning’s meter once again allows us to know the true nature of the narrator. Browning’s imagery serves to further reveal that true nature. The narrator believes it absurd that his late wife could compare his gift of “a nine-hundred-years-old name” to any other gift (Broadview 281). It is the female honor to take her husband’s name. Such a view represents the same idea that Sara Grand comments in her essay, “The New Aspect of the Woman Question”. “The Woman Question is the Marriage Question”, she writes (Broadview 97). The conquering of the woman through marriage is seen in Browning’s concluding metaphor where his speaker asks for his listener to “notice Neptune, though/ Taming a seahorse, thought a rarity,” (Broadview 281). After having read so much into the first painting of his late wife, the reader must read into the appearance of a second statue at the very end of the poem. Here Neptune is enslaving a seahorse to do his bidding. The reader must make the connection that that is the attitude of the speaker toward women, as well. The purpose of his dramatic monologue has been to persuade his listener that he should get the hand of the master’s daughter. In other words, he wants another seahorse. While Browning uses art to insert a female figure, Arnold creates two separate worlds, the earth and sea. These separate spheres represent very much how Victorians viewed the roles of men and women. Sarah Stickney Ellis writes, “the sphere upon which a young woman enters on first leaving school…” (Broadview 97). Woman were to be the fairer gender in morality and appearance. Here, that opinion is ramified by a woman who upon being in the male sphere, the sea, loses her soul. In order to avoid going back to the soulless land, she refuses to look at the merman. Instead, Margaret’s eyes “were seal’d to the holy book” (Broadview 435). Arnold’s imagery reflects the long-held idea of religion as a source of chastity for woman. Yet, despite the merman’s attempts, he cannot bring his woman back into his world. She instead “sits at her wheel in the humming town/ Singing most joyfully” (Broadview 435). She is content in her female sphere. Without the actual presence of women in their poems, both Arnold and Browning manage to describe the Victorian views of the “fairer sex”. Through use of dramatic monologue, both poets speak of woman without ever developing a female tone to their passages. The use of rhyme, meter, and imagery all serve to lend credibility to the duke and the merman. Yet, of course, it still leaves the reader asking, “Where are the women?”
A critical Appreciation of Dover Beach
“Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold was first published in the anthology titled New Poems in 1867.The poem laments the transition from an era of spiritual faith and harmony to an era of rapid erosion of tradition and faith. It is Arnold’s critique of the Victorian society, where unprecedented industrialization and groundbreaking scientific discoveries caused a paradigm shift in man’s perception of himself. The age-old theocentric identity eroded away to make for an anthropocentric understanding of man. This, along with the rising materialism brought about the loss of harmony among men.
This poem gives poignant expression to Arnold’s own pessimism about the mechanical Victorian age where men became rootless without the unifying bond of religion. The preoccupation with this crisis is also reflected in Arnold’s other poems like “The Scholar Gipsy” in which he reiterates man’s sense of disassociation and social fragmentation rising from religious doubt. This, he popularly refers to as the “strange disease of modern life”. The poem deceptively opens with the tranquil image of the glimmering sea in the moonlight where the speaker looks out at the sea from his vantage point at Dover beach. But readers soon realize that beneath this veneer of calm, there’s something much more unsettling. The speaker calls upon his companion to share the sweetness of the night air but uses odd adjectives to describe the landscape. He calls the moonlit beach “blanched” and refers to the sound of the sea waves flinging the pebbles on the beach as “grating roar”-as if it’s a harsh sound that disturbs the serene landscape. Through the image of the ebbing sea, Arnold symbolically alludes to man’s retreating faith in religion. The monotonous movement of the sea which takes the pebbles from the beach and flings them back creates a melancholic rhythm that Arnold refers to as the “eternal note of sadness”. The image of the pebbles being flung out creates a sense of helplessness, typical of the Victorian age. The tumultuous sea is a symbol of timelessness and it stands witness to all of mankind’s sufferings which it mournfully sings through the slow cadence of waves. To describe this timelessness, Arnold claims that Sophocles, the classical Greek tragedian also heard this mournful note of the sea on the Aegean and it had the same effect on him as it did on Arnold. Sophocles’ stoicism as expressed in Antigone was born out of the fact that life in ancient Greek society was extremely difficult because they were plagued with wars. Death became ubiquitous which lead people to adopt a fatalistic a view of life. In such a context, life and death became synonymous.
Arnold’s stoicism was due his apprehension of a bleak, godless society where man is helpless without anything to place their faith in. In the third stanza, Arnold metaphorically refers to religion as the “sea of faith”. Just as the vast endless oceans encircle the earth’s landmass, mankind too, was once surrounded by spiritual faith. It gave them a sense of belonging and security as they were held together by the common belief that they were all God’s children. But the Darwinian Theory that emerged during the Victorian period made man skeptical about such religious postulates that he had trusted since time immemorial. He now, began to question the veracity of his own origin. The poet symbolically refers to this growing doubt with the auditory image of the “withdrawing roar” of the sea of faith. Faith has become ephemeral and elusive like the “breath of the night wind”. As a result, mankind lies unprotected, exposed to the unknown consequences of faithlessness. Arnold compares this insufferable isolation of humanity to the “naked shingles” i.e. pebbles that lie on the beach after being flung out of the sea. The last stanza opens with the poem’s speaker addressing his companion: “Ah, love, let us be true/ To one another!” It is an emotionally honest appeal where he ardently wishes that their love is true in nature as it is the only thing that can bring a ray of hope amidst all the bleakness. Interestingly, Tennyson, another notable Victorian poet wrote in the dinosaur cantos of his In Memoriam about humans finding comfort in each other “behind the veil”, implying that marriage and love will console us against our loss of faith.
Through his speaker, Arnold points out the difference between the deceptive appearance and the reality of the Victorian world. With the exceptional progress, it might seem glamorous like a world of dreams but in reality, it does not offer essential human qualities like compassion, “certitude” or “help for pain”. Arnold compares this harsh reality with the historical event of the battle of Epipolae that took place two thousand years ago, as described in the History of Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. In that ill-fated Sicilian expedition, the Athenian troops unwittingly killed their own men as they could not differentiate between themselves and their enemies in the darkness of the night. With the disappearance of the light of faith, there will be nothing to morally guide men or hold them together. Thus, Arnold apprehends that men will mistrust each other and end up harming one another, just like those “ignorant armies”. This idea of dying light of faith can perhaps be linked to the light on the east coast of France that the speaker saw from the Dover beach- a light that disappeared after gleaming for a fleeting moment.
Thus, Dover Beach provides justice to Arnold’s poetic sensibilities. It rightly illustrates his apprehension about a dark future of mankind where the long standing pillars of religious faith had crumbled under the weight of empirical knowledge leading to man losing his humane sensibilities. This idea of faithlessness, isolation and subsequent dehumanization later became the major of modern poetry.
Comparison of Dover Beach and Young Goodman Brown
It is always complicated to compare the literary pieces that belong to different kinds of literature. However, the word order is not the determining point due to perception and interpretation of literature. The lyric poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold and the short story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne are the pieces almost from different realms. However, a closer look at both of them might help observe the similarities in the vision of Hawthorne’s protagonist and Arnold persona in the poem. It is represented differently, for Matthew Arnold portrays it as the features of nature around, while in the Hawthorne’s novel it is the decay of the protagonist’s admiration with the world and people in it. Thus, the main thing that connects the two works is the portrayal of a smooth transition from joy and excitement to the obscure frustration with reality.
The similarities between narrators in Dover Beach and Young Goodman Brown is the transitional tone incorporated in the two compositions. Both works begin with a romanticized view of the world. The persona sees all the beauty of a calm evening by the sees. It is filled with serenity and joy of being alive and be able to touch so simple things as sunset or not to worry about anything. The persona sees the complete harmony of nature, and joins it, feeling the bliss of the unity with the universe. In Dover beach, the narrator is captivated by the water: he observes the beauty in nature. “The sea is calm tonight / the tide is full, the moon lies fair.” He paints a perfect picture of Dover Beach. However, it is only an introduction to his further philosophical speculations the lead him to the pessimistic conclusions. Listening carefully to the movement of pebbles thrown back to the beach by the endlessly coming waves, He starts to think of the entire matter of living and the eternal conflict of and dissonance that the waves represent. The narrator recognizes the “grating roar” the only sound that is impossible to confuse for him, which he call “the eternal note of sadness.” This is a message from nature itself, and only a thinking human being is able to recognize this sound. This sound is dedicated to the lone wanderers around the shore, who were led there by suffering the uncertainty and the vagueness of the matter of existence (Grob 2002). By the end of the work, the persona is all alone, facing the dark reality.
The protagonist takes the first steps in the path through the woods as a naive and idealistic person. He sees the world as joyful and simple thing. Young Goodman Brown is also living a fantasy with his newly wed wife, Faith. He describes her as “a blessed angel on earth.” She is so perfect, in his eyes, that he wants to preserve her just as he has with faith in God. He is certain that all his ancestors were all decent and virtuous people anв good Christians. The community he lives in consists solely of best of people, and their pastor is simply a saint. This is the community that he intentionally leaves to the travel to the dark forest. This walk, for some reason, does not disturb Brown. All the events of the story align in the chain of psychological need after a certain incident, lying outside the story and accomplished in the mind and heart of Brown. The agreement to a meeting with the dark force is the product of subconscious unbelief. This journey shows him the dark side of the entire world he lives in. Those people who are separated by social status, reputation, race, religion by day unite in the darkness of night and in the worship of evil (Connolly 1962). After his return to the village, he looks with horror at living normal lives of Christian citizens, whom he saw in the forest, turn out to be terrible hypocrites. He loses the faith in humanity and God. This is a presentation of a gradual loss of hope, the entire idea of the world and people collapsed before his very eyes, and this is a state of mind, with which he lived till the end of his life.
To conclude everything mentioned above, the works mentioned have in common the tragedy of the persona, which finds them differently. As the two works develop, the tone change drastically. At the beginning both of the stories ode to the world and enjoy their lives being certain of everything they know. However, Dover Beach turns into a sad cruel place which people misinterpret into a paradise, while the author sees it as a dead end of the idea of existence. Young Goodman Brown sees everything that he ever believed in is false and he is surrounded by sinners and hypocrites. He develops into a cold, anti-social man who mistrusted everyone in town and lived in suspicion, as he does not know what to believe in.
Connolly, Thomas E. “How Young Goodman Brown Became Old Badman Brown”. College English, vol 24, no. 2, 1962, p. 153. JSTOR.
Grob, Alan. A Longing Like Despair: Arnold’s Poetry of Pessimism. 1st ed., Newark, University Of Delaware Press, 2002.