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Assigned: "The Buried Life" (1480-82), "The Scholar Gypsy" (1485-91), "Dover Beach" (1492-93), "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse" (1493-98), "Preface to Poems" (1504-14).
"The Buried Life"
1. How can this poem be compared to Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality"? What is the speaker searching for that might compare to the object sought in "Intimations"?
2. What is the "buried life"? Is it ever accessible, either in part or in full? What obstacles hinder us when we try to gain access to it?
3. What accusation does the speaker make against language? What is the relationship between language and emotional expression? What, if anything, does the speaker's treatment of language suggest about Arnold's view of poetry's therapeutic value?
4. What solution does the poem offer for alleviating the individual's isolation and inability to render the world morally intelligible? Do you find that solution convincing? Why or why not?
5. Describe "Dover Beach" as a Greater Romantic Lyric — characterize the three stages as they occur specifically in Arnold's poem. Do you find the affective resolution convincing? Why or why not?
6. Explore Arnold's treatment of religion: What is the "Sea of Faith"? How does the phrase "bright girdle furled" involve Carlyle's metaphor of clothes? What "social prophecy" does Arnold make about the consequences of Europe's loss of Christian faith?
7. How does the speaker's lament that "the world . . . / Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain" amount to a rejection of Wordsworth's "religion of nature"?
8. At what point does Arnold's mimetic description of nature turn into an investigation of emotional and spiritual matters? Why does he enlist the classical Greek tragedian Sophocles — not the Romantic Wordsworth — as his authority for doing so? How does Arnold reject Wordsworthian individualism?
"Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse"
9. To what extent does this poem follow the pattern of a Greater Romantic Lyric? If it doesn't follow out all three stages, what stage does it partly or entirely lack?
10. What does Arnold's speaker go to the Grande Chartreuse to find or recover? What problem does the poem articulate? Is the problem solely a matter of the speaker having lost religious faith, or something in addition to that?
11. Matthew Arnold's speaker describes himself as "Wandering between two worlds, one dead, / The other powerless to be born" (85-86). What might Carlyle offer as the antidote to this feeling of paralysis? What attitudes does this poem's speaker share with Carlyle? Still, why wouldn't a Carlyle-type solution be acceptable to Arnold?
"Preface to 1853 Poems"
12. What two standards must be met for a poetic representation to be considered "interesting" or worthwhile (1505)? When is a representation not interesting?
13. What are the "external objects of poetry"? How does a poet recognize an "excellent action" (1506)?
14. What, according to Arnold, is the "radical difference" between the poetical theory of the Greeks and the poetical theory of the modern age? (1507) Why is poetry based on Aristotelian poetic theory superior to modern poetry even in the subordinate area of rendering thought and character?
15. What is the false aim for poetry that the "modern critic," according to Arnold, "absolutely prescribes" (1509)? In explaining why he disagrees with modern critics, how does Arnold reject romantic self-consciousness and romantic poetics, at least insofar as he might describe them?
16. A "young writer having recourse to Shakespeare as his model" runs what "great risk" (1509-10)? Why exactly, according to Arnold, is Shakespeare the great poet he is, and why is he nonetheless not a good model of excellence for young Victorian writers?
17. What moral and intellectual effects does the study of the ancient writers have upon "those who constantly practice it" (1512)? Why are those effects important both to individual students/writers and the societies within which they live?
18. What threat, implied or directly stated, has Arnold written his "Preface" to counteract? In other words, what is driving him to promote Classical poetics and the values he attaches to those poetics?
"The Function of Criticism at the Present Time"
19. What is the nature of the "critical effort" (1514), and what, according to Arnold, is the "highest function of man" (1515)? How do we know this to be so? Can criticism fulfill this highest function, or is it the case that only art can do so?
20. What are the elements with which literary genius works? What precisely is the "grand work" of literary genius? What is it not? To what extent is literary genius therefore dependent upon the age in which it works? (Cf. 1516)
21. What is the relationship between the "critical power" and the "creative power" (1516)? Why can't there be a truly great period of literary creation without criticism? What, for instance, was the problem with the romantics' exercise of their creative genius? (1517-18)
22. How does Arnold analyze the French Revolution from pages 1517-18? What was the Revolution's greatest strength, and what was its "greatest error"? How does this analysis of the Revolution relate to Arnold's claims about "the function of criticism at the present time"?
23. How is Edmund Burke's career, which Arnold refers to from 1518-19, an example of "living by ideas" and therefore a counterbalance to the errors of the French Revolutionaries? How does Arnold explain his phrase "living by ideas" (1520)?
24. What notion "hardly enters into an Englishman's thoughts" (1521)? How is this missing notion essential to criticism? How does Arnold define criticism and its goals on 1521-22? For example, what one word sums up the rule criticism ought to follow?
25. What forces in current British life, according to Arnold, are getting in the way of intellectual progress? (1523-25)? What is his complaint about the newspaper headline "Wragg is in custody"?
26. What objections does Arnold anticipate from 1525 onwards against his view of British society's need for critical activity? What social vision is he offering — who or what will be the agent of change, and when will that change come about?
27. How does Arnold finally define criticism? (1527)
28. How does Arnold compare to John Stuart Mill in the objects of his criticism? In what might he differ from Mill?
29. On 1527, Arnold describes his notions of the modern nation and the individual's place within it. How might those notions, for those who have read T.S. Eliot's claims about poetry and criticism in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," be a source for the later author's ideas?
Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.