Love Elements in Matthew Arnold's Poetry

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      Matthew Arnold's Love poems are not passionate lyrics of a soul overflowing with the biological man-woman attraction. They are contemplative poems dealing mainly with separation, loneliness and the uncertainty and waywardness of life. Neither are his love poems remarkable in its bulk; they are hardly more than twenty, all of which were written between his twenty-sixth and thirtieth years. Most of them appeared in the volume of poems published in 1852, under the name Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems. Twelve of the sixteen poems of the volume deal with love. They were later arranged by the author himself in two sets, namely Switzerland and Faded Leaves.

      The Switzerland group of poems were rearranged by Arnold many times, as if he was not satisfied with the order in which it appeared. The seven of them along with Memory Picture and A Dream deal with Arnold's shortlived relationship with a shadowy figure Marguerite. In the final arrangements of the poems, Meeting comes first. It is followed by three pieces Parting, A Farewell and Isolation. To Marguerite, To Marguerite: Continued, Absence, and The Terrace at Berne appeared last in that order.

      Interestingly, it is in Parting, the second in the group, that one gets the main theme of the group strikingly presented. Coming after Meeting, one finds a mood contrasting with that of the first. The lovers find themselves in autumn, the winter of love is ominously before them. The voice of Marguerite, indoors is comforting as against the roaring autumn winds.

..who is this by half-open'd door,
Whose figure casts a shadow on the floor?
The sweet blue eyes - the soft, ash-colourd hair -
The cheeks that still their gentle paleness wear

      The contrast between the short lines that throb like the heart-beat and the long iambic pentameter lines repeats the contrast depicted in the poem too. The nature description, with the mountains, wind and secludes stand for detachment in life and an escape from the love-born confusion. The voice of Marguerite stands for man-woman love, for a homely life of comforting interiors, English gardens, and personal entanglements. The author's conflict rests on his realisation that his love for Marguerite, though intense it is, cannot lead him to permanent peace or calm. This conflict appears to be the theme of the poem. The last eight quatrains work as a conclusion where the two conflicting thoughts are interwoven. The author addresses first his beloved and then Nature. Marguerite and he are bound to be separated for there is a sea that rolls between them. So he searches Nature for a peace that brings freshness to the heart.

Blow ye winds! lift me with you!
I come to the wild.
Fold closely, O Nature!
Thine arms round thy child.
Ah, calm me, restore me!
And dry up my tears

      The passionate intensity, that is found in Shakespearean love-sonnet or a Keatsian lyric is missing here. And it is truly priggish on the part of Arnold to refer to the different past of Margeurite and seek shelter in the Alpine purity.

      The young lover of A Farewell tells his beloved that he is not at all troubled by her coolness towards him. Surely this kind of love must be rather cool.

      He himself lack the masculine certainty that a woman seeks. But this certainty which women like is not to be found in the contemporary world, either. Until she too learns the fact they cannot be one another's. He says this plainly:

Go then! till Time and Fate impress
This truth on thee, be mine no more!

      So it is parting till she is able to see beyond the values of mere will and energy and understand their true self. One day they

Shall see ourselves, and learn at last
Our true affinities of soul.

      However, this true understanding of each other is possible after they shed their mortality; "in the eternal Father's smile". But by that time, they would have missed many earthly satisfactions. To compensate the loss, the lovers will be able to realise their true affinities. In a way Arnold is building up the myth of heavenly re-union, which contradicts with his own rational attitude in such matters. It appears Arnold is depicting the timidity of a lover who instead of boldly indulging in love is trying to escape into solitude of his own. Arnold appears to be afraid of love and he is trying to spiritualise his love by unconvincing fancies. Some critics present the view that Arnold keeps himself detached from the lover in Switzerland and that he is only presenting the incompleteness of youthful love. This argument doesn't agree with the intense and genuine personal tone that one finds in the closing stanzas of A Farewell. Whatever that may be, the poem certainly shows the superiority of calm and peace over fretful passion. In depicting this aspect of love the poem is consistent with others in the group. In the zenith of the Switzerland are to be found in the two Marguerite poems, isolation: To Marguerite and To Marguerite: Continued. Here too we find the earlier theme that passionate love is intrinsically transitory and man's hope of a fusion of human heart is simply illusory. There is a greater intensity in the thoughts expressed.

      Isolation shows the lover's feelings for Marguerite growing during their separation. This is so inspite of the fact that he realises that she no longer loves him. He bids her final farewell and goes on to reflect on his own self deception and the spiritual consolation he attained by realising the truth of things. Man is fated to be isolated. For he lives there is some kind of interaction from "shore to shore", lessening the sense of isolation. Is it divine beauty that binds all hearts? Or is it universal Truth? Whatever it may be the consolation is only momentary. Even the beautiful scenes remind humans that once they "were parts of a single continent". The poem ends with an Omar Khayyam like accusation on God for creating this sorry scheme of things. It is God who has ordered this isolation and bade between them,

The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.

      To Marguerite: Continued shows the poet in the same mood. The astounding loveliness and the inability for thought or feeling to overcome the sense of isolation is depicted. Some call this "the format and, perhaps, indeed, the greatest of Arnold's lyrics. It is a lament, not merely that of a lover for his separation from his beloved, but also for the universalisation in which "mortal millions live alone". Here at the apex of his Switzerland poems Arnold shows his distrust in romantic love, which can neither enlighten nor comfort him. These poems appear to have a message for man: that the feeling, called love, enables one to realise the terrible isolation in which he lives; at the same time it does not help us to cope with this isolation.

      In Absence the lover, far away from Marguerite, is reminded of his beloved by the grey eyes of a stranger. The poem opens,

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.

      He says it is a curse of life that nobler thoughts do not blot our passion from our brain. By the passage of time petty dust fills the souls and we "must forget" though we do not want to. The contrast in temperament between the lover and the beloved is shown in the lines.

I struggled towards the light; and ye,
Once - long'd for-storms of love!
However The poem ends with a pathetic cry to the beloved:
Upon Time's barren, stormy flow,
Stay with me, Marguerite, still!
The Terrace at Berne, starts with a reminder to the beloved that ten years are past.
Ten years! - and to my waking eye
Once more the roofs of Berne appear;

      The lover reminisces his past encounters with his beloved at various places in Berne and speculates about her whereabouts. Perhaps a chance meeting is possible.

Ah, shall I see thee, while a flush
Of startled pleasure floods thy browa

      Or, may be she the "Daughter of France" has gone back to her native land. Then we get a graphic picture of Marguerite that can be painted only by true lover. He still remembers her outward appearance. He asks:

Doth riotous laughter now replaceable is
Thy smile, and rough, with stony glare.
Thy cheek's soft hue, and fluttering lace The kerchief that enwound thy hair?

      Perhaps she might have grown old and changed beyond recognition. In any case the mortals do have only a shadowy durability" and they move aimlessly.

Like driftwood spars which meet and pass
Upon the boundless ocean-plain,

      The epigrammatic end of the penultimate stanza;

Man nears man, meets and leaves again,

      Gives a universality to the love poem where Marguerite becomes a symbol. The Switzerland series of poems are good love poems taken in isolation. But taken as a whole they find wanting in unity. Perhaps Arnold himself was dissatisfied with them. That is why he rearranged their order several times. Even in the order in which Arnold left them finally, they do not show the necessary unity. The severa! poems do not blend happily; the theme and the meaning appear rather blurred; the lover and the beloved appear very shadowy. If at all there is a unity in them it is one born out of the all pervading melancholy. However, one can gather Arnold's ideas on man-woman love from these poems. In all of them the lover foresees the inevitable parting that it is to follow and longs for a peace and freedom from the bonds of feeling. The fulfilment of passion is never the aim of love, according to Arnold. What we find in these poems is Arnold's bent for a wise detachment, a stoic disenchantment, a moral seriousness and a shunning of passion in man-to-woman love.

      In 1855, there appeared another cycle of love poems, Faded Leaves, Some critics say the girl mentioned in these poems are the same Marguerite, we find in the earlier poems. But others identify the girl as Frances Lucy Wightman whom Arnold met in 1859 and married in 1861. Calais Sands gives some evidence to the second opinion. It certainly refers to Arnold's courtship with Lucy Wightman, and so there is some logic in thinking her to be the beloved in all the poems of Faded Leaves: These poems do not always present any reality born out of a definite setting, a development of character or a related narrative. However, On the Rhine gives a real locality to it. The lover in these poems is a sensitive youngman, presumably Arnold of his youth. The girl is even more a shadow than Marguerite. The only physical feature we gather is that her eyes are too expressive to be blue and too beautiful to be grey. The theme in each of the poems is a variation on the continuance of love.

      The first in this series is The River. The lover is more passionate than the one in the Switzerland poems. His "heart is swollen with love, unsaid". He desires to weep, to declare his love and to rest his head on her shoulders.

The poem Too Late, opens with the lover talking of the general fate of love-pairs.

Each on his own strict line we move, And some find death ere they find love.

      Which is a sorry state of affairs. Later we find that

The lovers meet, but meet too late.

      But the reason why they meet so late is not made clear. May be Arnold hints that love never finds fulfilment.

      The love-pairs is in a "bitter departing" situation in Separation, the next poem in the series. The lover does not wish to listen to the consolations of time. Remembrance will always decay. It is the law of nature. So he wants to remove all the braces of memory of his beloved from his mind. If they happen to meet again, she with her grey eyes and brown hair would be a complete stranger to him.

      The poem, On the Rhine starts with a declaration that

Vain is the effort to forget.

      He decides to be down and get a mental picture of his beloved's eyes,

Those eyes of deep, soft, lucent hue -
Eyes too expressive to be blue, Too lovely to be grey.

      But the unmistakable dislike for intense passion and preference for quietness similar to that found in Nature is clear in the concluding stanza.

Ah Quiet, all things feel thy balm!
Those blue hills too, this river's flow,
Were restless once, but long ago.
Tam'd is their turbulent youthful glow:
Their joy is in their calm.

      Perhaps Arnold expressed here his idea that mature love is shorn of the turbulence and passionate intensity of immature youth.

      Longing, the last picture in the series, depicts the lover musing to his beloved.

Come: to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again.
For then the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

      The second series, Faded Leaves also show the author's distrust of romantic love. The sense of union his lovers feel is only an illusory feeling and the sense of satisfaction they feel out of the union is only transitory. Always reason is present, reminding the lovers that the fulfilment they enjoy is not permanent. Critics like Arthur Lyttleton point out that this is a serious deficiency in Arnold's love poems. In Switzerland and Faded Leaves the author does not allow passion free rein so that calmness and mental self-possession may be preserved. In Arthur Lyttleton's opinion there is very little of Love in Arnold's love poems. Real and intimate man-woman love is not to be seen in them. When he senses another soul close to him, what he gains from love is only self-knowledge and self-possession. It appears Arnold's consideration is what love is not, rather than what it is. He cares only for the gifts that love offers; calm, peace and a rational self-possession. And those are very well beyond the fret and fever caused by passion.

      The Person Marguerite: Arnold's relationship with Marguerite, who she is and how deeply the twain were in love are not known with any certainty. There are some critics who think that Marguerite is an absolutely fictitious being. Arnold himself said something to that effect. However, the emotions expressed in the Switzerland group of poems are too intense, and the physical description too graphic to be unreal. From the poems we get the physical appearance of Marguerite; blue eyes; soft ash hair; a pale complexion and rounded cheeks; a mouth that can arch quickly; a mocking smile; used to tie a kerchief around her head; moved with pliant grace; clear, light hearted and musical voice.

       She was French for in The Terrace at Berne, The poet asks:

Or hast thou long scene wander'd back
Daughter of France! to France, thy home,
And flitted down the flowery track
Where feet like thine too lightly come.

      In another poem we get a description of the poet riding along Lake Thun, by moonlight, through the popular avenue and "the roof'd bridge that spans the stream" and goes up the steep street to Marguerite's light. This is the locality of Bellevue Hotel and Arnold once stayed there, during his continental trip. In some of the other poems he mentions the mountains of the Oberland which are south of Lake Thun. These are the scanty facts we can glean from his poems. Biographers have supplemented these by research and more by imagination. One biographer conjectures, with some reason, that she was a governess, a companion to a lady or a teacher. Another one thinks that she was of French aristocracy. A third takes her as a Bohemian, connected with the Parisian stage. However the details about Marguerite, the person, is not essential for the literary appreciation of the poems.

      At a time when Matthew Arnold was involved in his struggles of the soul and doubts, he might have found the unconquer'd joy of Marguerite highly attractive. Some obscure but insuperable, obstacle prevented Arnold from continuing his intimacy with her. The Lake tells how "God's tremendous voice" was heard in 'tones of ire':

Be councell'd and retire

      We get a hint in To Marguerite that it was she who withdrew from the poet. There we find,

Self sway'd our feelings ebb and swell.
Thou lovs't no more: Farewell ! Farewell !'

      There is a 'sea which rolls between them'; elsewhere the darting river of life carries him away from her. Nowhere we get a clear idea what precisely is the cause that separated them. Perhaps there is a hint in Parting.

      The Woman in Faded Leaves: The poems of The Faded Leaves is generally thought to be concerned with Lucy Wightman, whom Arnold met in 1859 and married in 1861. However there is not enough internal evidence to substantiate this opinion. As H. C. Duffin points out, the feelings expressed in 'both the set of love poems have a sort of unity and continuity'. Therefore it is possible, a single woman, Marguerite is dealt with in both the poems. The fact that both the sets appeared together in the 1852 volumes gives credence to this opinion. Neither does Duffin agree with the view that Marguerite is a symbolic representation of Arnold's youthful self. It is possible that Marguerite is an idealised memory, a combination of part-actual, part-dream. Arnold's imagination might have added the blue eyes, ashen hair and the arched lips, of a French girl he might have met near Lake Thun. The argument is plausible, but look at her word picture in Parting:

The sweet blue eyes--the soft ash colour'd hair-
The cheeks that still their gentle paleness wear-
The lovely lips, with their arch smile, that tells
The unconquered joy in which her spirit dwells-

      It is too distinct and attractive to make the idealised-woman-theory probable.

      Arnold perhaps is quite unique as a love poet, to write about a feature of Marguerite, not previously associated with a beloved. This is the archness, the conscious but innocent exercise of charm which pleases the poet. See the picture of Marguerite in A Memory Picture, that castes an irresistible charm around Arnold:

That lilac kerchief, bound
Her soft face, her hair around
Tied under the archest chin
Mockery ever ambush'd in

      In Switzerland we find again the arch smile. In Faded Leaves still again we find the archness:

Let those arch eyes now softly shine
That mocking mouth grow sweetly bland

      However the archness Arnold talks of, is not the commonplace flirtatious one, but is the manifestation of an inner grace. Marguerite is no mere pretty woman. Neither is beauty her lone attribute. He finds an angelic gravity" in her, an intellectual quality. Perhaps the real Marguerite had interests akin to that of the poet himself.

      Calais Sands and Dover Beach that appeared in 1867 volume, are two of the love poems that stand apart from the two groups. There we find a passionate, though light, love. Mock-despair is there and also profound philosophic comments. There is a new note of seriousness to be found in them. Calais Sands, though possibly written in 1850, does not show the feverish excitement of the earlier poems. The sight of the beloved is refreshing to the poet.

How exquisite thy voice would come,
My darling, on this lonely air!
How sweetly would the fresh sea-breeze
Shake loose some lock of soft brown hair!

      He wishes to rest always near her and longs to make her his queen:

To-night those soft-fringed eyes shall close
Beneath one roof, my queen! with mine.

      Married Love is the theme in Dover Beach. The poet looks at the sea through the window and finds,

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the Straits;

He tries to interpret the scene for the benefit of his beloved. He tells her that

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round the earth's shore.

      But now, one only hears the roar of the withdrawal of faith, leaving the shingles of the world naked. The world now

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

      People dare struggling and fighting ignorantly on a darkling plain. The only sensible thing possible to do in such a world, he tells his beloved:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another!

      The Buried Life expresses the poet's sense of isolation and the purposeless. ness of life. Still it may be considered a love-poem in a wide sense. The poet's develops from a lover's quarrel and ends in the mystic efficacy of love. When there is real love

...what we mean we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,

      This kind of love is more peaceful and permanent than the feelings found in the Marguerite poems.

      Euphrosyne appears to be one of the Marguerite poems. The statement, "I must not say that thou wast true" in the beginning of the poem should be an address to her. The conclusion that the short happiness they had appeared like love, too, shows the Marguerite's connection. Urania, its twin, resulted from the amused scorn found in Marguerite's "lone-eyes". It appears to express Arnold's view to women in general rather than any particular person. The Forsaken Merman, Obermann, The Youth of Nature and The Youth of Man are to be considered love poems, says some critics. H. W. Garrod and E. K. Chambers notice the Marguerite touch in those too. This view is questioned by some others. They say in Arnold's Love poems one finds an intimacy born out of the homespun, earth-bound nature of Love. Duffin says,

There is here no lurid passion like that of the Sonnets (Shakespeare's) nor any touch of the fine abandon of Burns, the romantic etherialism of Shelley, the angel worship of Browning and Patmore.

      The feeling expressed in the Switzerland and Faded Leaves series are intense. Really they are not inspired by Marguerite, but by the author's painful realisation that he is unable to fully indulge in love. There is some puritan element in his intellectual make up. This peculiar make up of his made it impossible for him to enjoy the sheer joy of love. However these love poems possess a delicacy and beauty, making them moving.

      The Voice is another controversial poem. Though Garrod and Chambers find Marguerite in them Duffin considers the poem baffling and unconvincing. He finds an attempt at imitating Shelley, in the first stanza, resulting in artificiality. In the Second he hears the echo of Tennyson also. Later, abruptly the Arnoldian personal note comes in. There is a sincerity, and an imaginative and passionate utterance not elsewhere found among his poems.

O unforgotten Voice, thy whispers come
Like wanderers from the world's extremity
Unto their ancient home.

      Duffin says that if this is a Marguerite poem, there is more intensity in Arnold's feelings for her than is shown in others' poems. There are some indications that The Voice was inspired by a still earlier love affair.

      The cool attitude of the early poems are found in A Modern Sapho too. The transitory nature of love too is mentioned. A woman of forceful character indulges in a monologue with some passion. She has placed her violent love on a man who loves some other woman. She hopes to see her beloved getting tired of the other woman and turning to her. It is an excellent study in the psychology of love. She has a morbid passion to posses his man. But that is possible only when the man is tired of the other woman. She says;

...their love will be cooling: and he
As he drifts to fatigue, discontent, and dejection
Will be brought, tho poor heart! how much nearer to thee!

      It is almost genuine dramatic monologue. There may be some perversity in her but we are likely to agree with the ultimate judgement. The New Sirens: A Pallenode which describes the sirens offering love as one of the false delights offered to their victims. Here too the transitory nature of love is mentioned.

      There are some critics who consider Tristram and Iseult as the most brilliantly composed love-poem of Arnold, where his rich talents are well displayed. But they as well show his mannerisms. It is important to note that the poet chose this story "the one great European myth of adultery". He saw the seeds of romantic love in the medieval court-story. Arnold recasts the story, however, to suit his purpose.

      For the central episode, he chooses the death of the long separated middle aged lovers rather than their taking the love-potion and the following mystical union of theirs. This highly passionate event comes later, in retrospect. The final tranquil reunion of a man and woman wasted by passion is in the foreground. Arnold shifts his emphasis giving prominence to Iseult of Brittany. Her treachery is omitted, making her a character worthy of the readers' sympathy. He aims at balanced opposition, and a contrast between two kinds of women and two kinds of love. Others who had dealt with the story never tried their hands at this novel idea. One finds here Arnold's most sustained analysis love. He deals with the last few hours of the story revealing earlier incidents through flashbacks. The taking of love-potions is mentioned thrice. First as a narrative in presenting the characters, then as a memory reaching Tristram in his sleep, and again when narrating Tristram's dream. There are three different pictures.

      Apart from the narrative, most of the adventurous story is revealed through Tristram's thoughts. Some of Arnold most brilliant descriptive power is spent in picturing the dead Iseult lying in the moonlight beside her lover. The passing that continuously consumed her beauty is not there. In its place is seen a freshness, that existed in her during her youth, expressing "a tranquil settled loveliness".

      In Arnold's love poems one can study a contrast between two types of women. The first is the tantalising and vivid woman showing movement and intensity of feeling, as exemplified by Marguerite of the Switzerland poems. The other is steady, quite and calm appearing under various names. They present in addition to two kinds of love, two ways of life too. The mild sweet Iseult depicts devoted love while the darker Iseult depicts tempestuous passion. The two Iseults also depict two ways of life. As Arnold's aim is to show the two kinds of love and life in juxtaposition, there is no need to show a celebration of passionate love. All the passionate episodes come in retrospect, as flashbacks. Its single love scene is part of the dying reverie of Tristram. In keeping with his avowed ethical theories. Arnold shows his favour for life and wide action and glorifies the forces of life. The idea of transfiguration through passions is anathema for him. The beauty of the scene where the lovers die results from the extinction, not from the culmination of passion. There is straight-forward denunciation of romantic passion, whether it is ambition, remorse or love, is found in the second part.

      Conclusion: In all his love poems Arnold shows his dislike for idealising passion, a tendency practiced by many of his contemporaries. He rejected the romantic attitude to love in favour of classical, rationalistic attitude. He did not indulge in depicting love in a compelling and sympathetic way. The lyrical celebration of passionate love is not to be seen in his poems. There had been four different treatments of love. The Platonic, the classico-rationalistic, the Provencal and the romantic. The first asserts the development of human mind from physical desire for a beautiful woman to the love of ideal beauty. Arnold rejects this kind. Neither does he accept the pastoral, the elemental love of rustic life. What we find in him is a conflict between the classical-rationalist attitude to love and the romantic one. An anti-passionate attitude is the characteristic of the classico-rationalists view. This view shows Eros, by invading man and making him mad. Romantic view considers passions as something which is welcome, a beneficial emotion, the indulging in which has an ennobling effect on man. Love according to this view is salutary as an end in itself and as an instrument of ennoblement.

      G. R. Strange says that,

Arnold accepts the romantic woman. She became a significant figure in his poetic world; but all the other elements of the mystique, the belief in transfiguration through pasion, the aspiration for death and eternity, are rejected in favour of a poetic assertion of the classical rationalistic idea of love.

      To quote Griesson and Smith,

Of love as a personal, disturbing factor in Arnold's life, there are some, if veiled indication in a few of his most poignant poems. The puritant in Arnold is too obvious in his inability to do justice to French literature and character because of his dislike of what he calls "lubricity".

But into his life came, if we may trust all the group of lyrics entitled, Switzerland, a love for one between whom and him lay the gulf of a different ethics, temperament and experience.

      Hugh Walker too has to say something similar about Arnold's treatment of love. The element of passion is not wholly absent from his poetry, but it occupies a subordinate position, and Arnold's treatment is different from that of poets like Byron, Shelley, Browning and Rosetti. Switzerland in the hands of Shelley would have been a series of passionate love lyrics; Arnold makes it a beautiful and pathetic expression of his view of life. In Tristram and Iseult Arnold chooses, not the moment of passion, but the close of the passionate, and he ends with a warning of the fate which overtakes the man who fails to control his passion. In The Church of Brou the lovers are already dead and, walking in their tomb they take the sound of the wind for the sweep of angels' wings and hear in the rain upon the roof the rustle of the eternal rain of love. Probably the only poem where Arnold gives a little freedom for passion is The Forsaken Merman, and that fact should be the reason why it is one of the most popular poems of his.

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