MATTHEW ARNOLD QUESTIONS

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Assigned: Matthew Arnold. "The Buried Life" (1356-58); "Dover Beach" (1368-69); "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse" (1369-74); "Preface to Poems" (1374-84).

Of Interest: Author Image | Literary History | DMOZ Links | Victorian Web | Dover Beach, Images | Dover Beach, More Images

"The Buried Life" (1356-58)

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?

"Dover Beach" (1368-69)

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 and not the Romantic Wordsworth as his authority for doing so? How does Arnold reject Wordsworthian individualism?

"Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse" (1369-74)

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? (Note: Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" is a good example of the type of lyric referenced: such poems follow a meditative scheme: a) description of a natural scene, b) analysis of the spiritual problem the scene brings to mind, and c) emotion-based resolution of the problem.)

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 (1374-84)

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?

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.