Biography of Matthew Arnold
Although remembered now for his elegantly argued critical essays, Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) 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 Balliol College, Oxford University. In 1844, after completing his undergraduate degree at Oxford, he returned to Rugby as a teacher of classics. After marrying in 1851, Arnold began work as a government school inspector, a grueling position which nonetheless 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 ideas that greatly reflect the predominant values of the Victorian era.
Meditative and rhetorical, Arnold's poetry often wrestles with problems of psychological isolation. In "To Marguerite—Continued," for example, Arnold revises Donne's assertion that "No man is an island," suggesting that we "mortals" are indeed "in the sea of life enisled." Other well-known poems, such as "Dover Beach," link the problem of isolation with what Arnold saw as the dwindling faith of his time. Despite his own religious doubts, a source of great anxiety for him, in several essays Arnold sought to establish the essential truth of Christianity. His most influential essays, however, were those on literary topics. In "The Function of Criticism" (1865) and "The Study of Poetry" (1880) Arnold called for a new epic poetry: a poetry that would address the moral needs of his readers, "to animate and ennoble them." Arnold's arguments, for a renewed religious faith and an adoption of classical aesthetics and morals, are particularly representative of mainstream Victorian intellectual concerns. His approach—his gentlemanly and subtle style—to these issues, however, established criticism as an art form, and has influenced almost every major English critic since, including T. S. Eliot, Lionel Trilling, and Harold Bloom. Though perhaps less obvious, the tremendous influence of his poetry, which addresses the poet's most innermost feelings with complete transparency, can easily be seen in writers as different from each other as W. B. Yeats, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, and Sharon Olds. Late in life, in 1883 and 1886, Arnold made two lecturing tours of the United States. Matthew Arnold died in Liverpool in 1888.
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Matthew Arnold Poems
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; the cliffs of England stand,
What is it to grow old? Is it to lose the glory of the form, The lustre of the eye? Is it for beauty to forego her wreath?
I ask not that my bed of death From bands of greedy heirs be free; For these besiege the latest breath Of fortune's favoured sons, not me.
Foil'd by our fellow-men, depress'd, outworn, We leave the brutal world to take its way, And, Patience! in another life, we say The world shall be thrust down, and we up-borne.
Come to me in my dreams, and then By day I shall be well again! For so the night will more than pay The hopeless longing of the day.
Was it a dream? We sail'd, I thought we sail'd, Martin and I, down the green Alpine stream, Border'd, each bank, with pines; the morning sun,
A region desolate and wild. Black, chafing water: and afloat, And lonely as a truant child In a waste wood, a single boat:
'Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green, And the pale weaver, through his windows seen In Spitalfields, looked thrice dispirited.
Isolation: To Marguerite
We were apart; yet, day by day, I bade my heart more constant be. I bade it keep the world away, And grow a home for only thee;
A Summer Night
In the deserted, moon-blanched street, How lonely rings the echo of my feet! Those windows, which I gaze at, frown,
A wanderer is man from his birth. He was born in a ship On the breast of the river of Time; Brimming with wonder and joy
IN THIS fair stranger’s eyes of grey Thine eyes, my love, I see. I shudder: for the passing day Had borne me far from thee.
Weary of myself, and sick of asking What I am, and what I ought to be, At this vessel's prow I stand, which bears me Forwards, forwards, o'er the starlit sea.
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 uncrowns his majesty,
A region desolate and wild.
Black, chafing water: and afloat,
And lonely as a truant child
In a waste wood, a single boat:
No mast, no sails are set thereon;
It moves, but never moveth on:
And welters like a human thing
Amid the wild waves weltering.