A Brief Account of Mathew Arnold’s Life
Mathew Arnold is popularly known for his critical essays. He was born in 1822 and began his career as a poet, winning early recognition as a student at the Rugby School where his father. Thomas Arnold, had earned national acclaim as a strict and innovative headmaster. Arnold also studied at Balliot College, Oxford University. In 1844, after completing his undergraduate degree at Oxford, he returned to Rugby as a teacher of classics. After marrying in 1951, Arnold began work as a government school inspector, a position which afforded him the opportunity to travel throughout England and the continent. Throughout his thirty-five years in this position, Arnold developed an interest in education, an interest which fed into both his critical works and his poetry. Empedocles on Etna (1852) and Poems (1853) established Arnold’s reputation as a poet and in 1857 he was offered a position, which he accepted and held until 1867, as professor of poetry at Oxford. Arnold became the first professor to lecture in English rather than Latin. During this time Arnold wrote the bulk of his most famous critical works, Essays in Criticism (1865) and Culture and Anarchy (1869), in which he sets forth idea that greatly reflect the predominant values of the Victorian era.
The Poetry and Style of Mathew Arnold
Discussing the poetry and style of Mathew Arnold may not be so difficult. We need to reckon with most of his essays on criticism. Arnold wrote extensively on social and cultural issues, religion, and education. Let us examine his most popular poem “Dover Beach”.
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the
French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; there
Cliffs of England stand.
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and flings,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again began,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegan, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Pf the nigh-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To 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 as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
The poem is about the human misery. Nature is used to draw a comparison between the fights of nature and the human misery. The poem consists of four stanzas which have a different amount of lines. The first stanza consists of 14 lines, the second of six, the third of eight and the last line contains nine lines. The rhyme is irregular. Arnold expresses shock on the crisis of faith during the Victorian period. In the beginning of the poem, he expresses how calm everything is just like any other night. However, as the poem progresses, he mentions how Sophocles heard the sadness on the Aegean Sea. Arnold mentions the “Sea of Faith”, this metaphor actually stands for the church. In mentioning the “Sea of Faith”, he reveals what while it looks calm and normal on the surface, the sea is singing a song of sadness and despair. During this time, people began questioning religion and turning to Darwinism. Arnold now posits that love should replace the darkness that has overtaken the world.
In this unit, we have explained how Mathew Arnold and Robert Browning both contributed immensely to English Poetry during the Victorian period. Browning’s “My Last Duchess” and Mathew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” remain part of the best British poetry collection. Both Browning and Arnold influenced the writings of W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot and many of the modern poets. In this article, you have been exposed to the backgrounds of Mathew Arnold and Robert Browning, how they wrote poetry and their styles.