Matthew Arnold's Poetical Contribution of Works

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      Alaric at Rome is a poem, for which Arnold won a prize in Rugby, which was published in 1840. He won the Newdigate prize for Cromwell at Oxford in 1843. The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems appeared in 1849, under the pseudonym 'A'. It contained some of his best poems, but it failed to catch the attention of the public. Shortly after its publication Arnold withdrew it from circulation. Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems appeared in 1852, again under the carlier pseudonym. But he felt dissatisfied with the title poem and withdrew that volume too from circulation. Fifteen years later, at the suggestion of Browning, he re-issued Empedocles on Etna. A new volume of poems was issued in 1853 under his own name, and the preface of the volume proclaimed him as a critic of eminence. Many pieces from the earlier edition along with new pieces like Sohrab and Rustum and The Scholar Gipsy found their place in the volume. 1855 saw the publication Poems of Matthew Arnold, second series, containing earlier poems with only two new poems, Balder Dead and Separation. Merope, A Tragedy appeared in 1858.

      After a barren period of 9 years was published New Poems, in which Empedocles reappeared. Many of Arnold's best, Thyrsis, Rugby Chapel, Heine's, Grave, A Southern Night, Dover Beach, and Obermann Once More first got published in it. During the last 20 years of his life, he created very few pieces. The Westminster Abbey, 1867, may be considered as the end of the poetic life of Arnold, which lasted nearly 20 years. It is almost the same as that of Shakespeare's or Spencer's. Shelly's was 12 years, that of, Keats a mere five. Wordsworth's effective poetic life was a mere 10 years. So in comparison Arnold had a fairly long productive poetic period.

      Arnold's poetry displays only a narrow range, though within the range it is quite exquisite. The first two volumes of his, published when he was 27 and thirty. contain much of the best work of his. The Strayed Reveller, The Forsaken Merman, Mycerinus, To a Gipsy Child, Resignation, and the sonnets To a Friend and Shakespeare appeared in the first. The second contained 'Empedocdes on Etna, Memorial Verses, A Summer Night and Stanzas in Memory of the Author of Obermann. Most of the lyrics which later were published in Switzerland and Faded Leaves too were to be found in it. Here one finds the complete range and scope of the poetic genius of Arnold. Later he might have amplified or given a bit of variety, but nothing new was added. True the narrative poems like Sohrab and Rustum, Balder Dead and the pastoral Elegy The Scholar Gipsy showed some novelty in 'form', but the content remained more or less the same.

      New Poems of 1867 had some excellent pieces worthy of an everlasting place in English. All are either elegies or of a meditative nature, repeating the earlier melancholic strain. Thyrsis is a companion piece to The Scholar Gipsy, another idyll of Oxford countryside plaintively protesting against the "mal du seicle". The exquisite description of Oxford countryside steeped in nostalgic memories of a bygone peaceful age will haunt the memory of the readers long after they are read. Rugby Chapel another elegy, written to honour his illustrious headmaster-father too is concerned with the 'cloud of human destiny'. Though full of intense feeling its rhymeless verses are hard and rhetorical. The same quality becomes more intense in Heine's Grave. A Southern Night laments the death of the author's brother, who died at Gibraltar, on his return from India. That piece surpasses others in tenderness of feeling and depth of meaning. In poetical expression too it has superb quality. Dean Stanley, the biographer of Thomas Arnold and the poet's own friend, is lamented in Westminster Abbey. The piece written on his dead dachshund is one of the most beautiful of the kind ever written in English language.

      One finds Arnold as a champion of classical ideal of poetry in his rightly famous preface to his 1853 volume of poetry. His opposition to the excesses and vagaries of the romantic strain common at the time is clearly seen in it. Specifically he denounces the modern cry to cast away subjects of old and to find poetic themes in modern life. However he failed to prove his theory in practice. Realising this mistake he withdrew Empedocles on Etna from circulation. He confessed that Empedocles was an unsatisfying achievement. Even his ardent admirers thought it to be a mere academic exercise, despite its occasional beauty and grace.

      All his poems firmly adhered to some definite poetic ideals. A characteristically melancholy philosophy pervade over all of them. The 1849 volume shows his Greek inspiration in 'matter and style'. In the sonnet To a Friend he talks of the triple Greek influence on him, that of Homer, Epictetus and Sophocles. Homer was the 'clearest souled among men'. The killing of Epictetus most shamed Domitian, the roman ruler Vespasian's son. But special thanks were reserved for Sophocles,

"who saw life steadily, and saw it whole"

      The Strayed Reveller, the title poem, is Greek in content and in form. Arnold tries to reproduce the effect of the choric odes of Greece with its rhymeless and irregular metre. Antigone, Mycerinus, The New Sirens and The Sick King in Bokhara are Greek in subject matter or in source or in treatment. Another master to whom Arnold owes much is Goethe,

Europe's sagest head
Physician of the iron age
He took the suffering human race
He read each wound, each weakness clear 
And struck his finger on the place
And said-Thou ailest here, and here

      His influence along with that of Wordsworth is clear in The Strayed Reveller volume. The latter's influence is clearer felt in Resignation, To a Gipsy Child and Mycerinus. This is specifically so in Resignation, where one hears an anguished cry from the depth of the poet's soul. The triple influence of Hebrew culture, Hellenism and Nature on Arnold is identified by Ralph Houghton. The poet's headmaster-father tried to inculcate in him a strict conscience and an earnest awareness of a moral sense.

      The father's influence did not prevent Arnold from enjoying the pleasures of life, but he always had a serious attitude to life. Poetry to him was criticism of life under the rules laid down by poetic truth and poetic beauty. Art for arts sake vehicle of thought. Pure was anathema to him. Instead, Art to him was to be instrumental music or pure lyricism didn't have an appeal to him. As a result he failed to appreciate Shelley's poems, which often has verbal music without a matching thought content.

      Of the moderns, Arnold could appreciate only two poets: Goethe and Wordsworth. He shows the distinctive qualities of the two in his Obermann. Living in a restless age, like Goethe, he became aware of the suffering of man and identified the mal du seicle. Like Wordsworth he thought of the ability of Nature to provide man with "freshness of the carly world". Though he didn't believe in the pantheism of Wordsworth, he realised the healing and refreshing effects that Nature can provide.

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