In his essay, ‘The Study of Poetry,’ Matthew Arnold has introduced poetry as a criticism of life. At the start of his essay, he states: “In poetry as criticism of life, under conditions fixed for such criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty, the spirit of our race will find, as time goes by and as other helps fail, its consolation and stay.” Thus, in keeping with him, poetry is ruled by poetic truth and poetic beauty.
Poetic truth is a characteristic quality of the matter and substance of poetry. It means a good illustration of life. In other phrases, it’s an accurate depiction of life without any attempt to falsify the facts. Poetic magnificence is contained within the manner and style. It is marked by the excellence of diction and flow of the verse. While speaking of Chaucer, Arnold mentions the fluidity of language and verse. Poetic magnificence springs from the right words within the proper order.
Poetic truth and poetic magnificence are interrelated and can’t be separated from each other. “The superior character of truth and seriousness within the matter and substance of finest poetry is inseparable from the prevalence of diction and movement marking its manner and style,” says Arnold. Therefore, if a poem is lacking within the qualities of poetic truth and excessive seriousness, it can not possess the excellence of diction and movement, and vice-versa.
In his estimate of Burns and Wordsworth, Arnold points out that one other characteristic of great poetry is using ideas to criticism of life. The greatness of Wordsworth lies in his powerful application of the subject of ideas to man, nature, and human life. Ideas, in keeping with Arnold, are moral concepts.
Another quality attributed to great poetry by Arnold is that of ‘high seriousness.’ Although he doesn’t explain the term, we gather various information from his statement. Aristotle believed that poetry is superior to history due to the former’s qualities of higher truth and better seriousness. What we judge from Arnold’s essay is that high-seriousness is concerned with the unfortunate reality. This quality is possessed by poetry which deals with the tragic aspects of life.
Arnold provides even examples from Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton’s poetry that illustrate this view. For instance,
dying Hamlet’s request to Horatio:
“If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story….”
While quoting Milton, Arnold mentions the lack of Proserpine, the loss “…which const Ceres all that pain/ To seek her through the world.”
Regarding the idea of criticism of life, it must be understood what Arnold meant by the phrase – “criticism of life.” It doesn’t imply carping at or unnecessarily discovering faults with life. The suggestion itself is unsound that it means a criticism of society and its follies. Criticism of life represents a healthy interpretation of life. The idea of poetry given by Arnold has been challenged on many accounts.
Arnold doesn’t contemplate Burns as a vital poet because, in his poetry, Burns presents an unpleasant life. Eliot attacked this opinion. Arnold believed that a poet has the benefit of portraying an exquisite life in his poetry. He thought that the poet has not the sting of describing a beautiful life but has instead the use of getting the capability to look beneath each ugliness and beauty. It is the facility to look beyond boredom, horror, and glory.
While teaching the idea of poetic beauty, Arnold mentions the excellence of diction. However, it doesn’t clarify what it’s. Regarding the flow in verse or the fluidity in movement, Arnold most likely doesn’t realize that coarseness is usually intended to create a specific impact. Smoothness needn’t be the only one; harshness and ruggedness are equally great qualities used to create particular effects.
Matthew Arnold doesn’t fully explain the term ‘high seriousness.’ It is to remember here that seriousness should in no way be thought-about synonymous with solemnity. The serious and humorous can exist together.
Another view put ahead by Arnold that has been beneath the shadow of criticism is that of ‘ideas.’ Arnold needs to say that an author may also use a moral thought to convey a moral lesson whereas interpreting life for us. But what Arnold believes is that there’s a pre-conceived thought on which the poet bases his analysis.
Eliot additionally criticizes Arnold on the latter’s occupation with only great poetry. Adhering to this precept, we might end up coping with only a tiny part of the entire poetry.
Matthew Arnold talks of deriving pleasure from poetry. But in keeping with critics, he’s biased in the direction of morality – a fact that’s evident from his view that poetry would replace religion. “More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us,” he writes.
Apart from all of the negative criticism directed towards Arnold, we can not deny that he has very seriously associated literature with life. As Douglas Bush rightly points out that literature shouldn’t be an end in itself for Arnold. It solely provides to the great thing about life and answers the question ‘How to live?’ Arnold is such an individual who doesn’t live to learn however reads to live.
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