Isolation: To Marguerite - Summary and Analysis

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      One of Arnold's finest love lyrics, the poem Isolation: To Marguerite first appeared in the 1857 edition as one of the 'Switzerland' poems. In 1853 the group contained To My Friends Who Ridiculed a Tender Leave taking (Later renamed 4 Memory Picture); The Other Lake (Also known as Meeting); A Dream; Parting; To Marguerite; and Absence. In 1854 A Farewell was added to the series, but the original To Marguerite. became Isolation. In 1869 We Were Apart became known as Isolation. The one beginning, Yes in the sea of life enisl'd' was renamed To Marguerite. There are critics who say that Marguerite has inspired twenty-one of Arnold's poems. If true, the Marguerite associated poems will include Urania, Euphrosyne, Destiny, Human Life, Despondency, Youth's Agitation and Self Deception, The River, Too Late, Separation, On the Rhine, and Longing.

      The figure of Marguerite remains shadowy. There are some who consider that like Lucy in Wordsworth's Lucy Poems, Marguerite is idealised womanhood. That is what the poet told his daughters. Possibly the mores of Victorian society made Arnold hide the real identity of the person.

      Switzerland was dear to Arnold for his dear philosopher Senancour lived there. It happened to become the land of his early love also. So the country has an intellectual and emotional appeal to him.

      A feeling of disillusionment in love can be found in the poem. Running from the beginning to the end, there is a melancholy and pathos. From the personal feeling of isolation the poet reaches the abstract and then the isolation becomes one that everyman has to face in worldly life.


      Stanza 1. Line. 1-6: The poet and his beloved (Marguerite) were physically separated. But his love for her was constant and that made him to keep himself separated from the world. There was place only for her in his heart. He hoped that her love for him too grew truer day by day.

      Stanza 2. Line 7-12: The poet found out his mistake. He learned that his beloved didn't return his love. He tried to console himself thinking that love very often remain unreturned. The unrequited love of his, increases and decrease often. But as his beloved does not love him he has to bid farewell to her.

      Stanza 3. Line. 13-18: The parting is final. He is forced into a life of loneliness in himself. Never has his heart tried to indulge in passion. It never deviated from its usual path. Now it has to go back to its solitude once again.

      Stanza 4. Line. 19-24: The poet's return to his solitude, is similar to that of the moon goddess. Her love for Endymion, the shepherd, who was sleeping in the pine forests on Mount Latmos was not returned.

      Stanza 7. Line. 25-30: Moon, the goddess of chastity, who wanders in the far away sky has not realised how worthless it is to aim at love from humans. But the poet has the opportunity to prove the truth about human love; that it is futile to expect love from humans. He has been lonely, is so at present and will be so in the future.

      Stanza 6. Line. 31-36: If the poet is not absolutely lonely now, it is because he spends his time with non-human things like the Ocean clouds, night, day, melancholy Autumn and happy Spring time, the pleasure and pain of others, and the love (If there is love in the world) of happier men who love each other.

      Stanza 7. Line. 37-42: Happier men (than the poet) are those who dream of the possibility of love blending two human beings into one. The hope of the realization of the dream releases them from their perpetual isolation. But this hope, in reality, does not make them less lonely than they really are.


      Arnold has written quite a few love poems. However he is not very successful as a love poet. The poems does not display the heat of love that bind man and woman. Elegiac in tone always, they do not sing of the triumph of love. In Duffin's opinion his love poetry is possibly the least satisfying part of his writing. 'It certainly is the least regarded'.

      The poem is an elegy of love where Arnold dirges his love for Marguerite. The poet will be remembered as the pioneer to bring isolation as a serious theme in literature. The poet starts telling of his personal isolation but ends in thinking of the isolation of everyman in this world.

      The stoic that Arnold is, he accepts or at least try to accept the futility of love. He does not think that true love exists in this world. To avoid the absolute loneliness he tries to get some consolation by observing the glories of Nature and happier men who dream of love as something that blends two human beings into one.

      Perhaps Browning's Last Ride Together, has some similarity with this poem. In both the lover fails to elicit love from their beloveds. But there is clear difference too. Browning's lover hopes to realise his love in the next world. Arnold does not have any such hope, for he does not believe in the existence of life after death.


1. The fault.....Farewell. Line. 7-12

      In this stanza Arnold explains how he realized the futility of his being in love with Marguerite. He admits he made a serious mistake in developing love for Marguerite. He ought to have known the consequences of love earlier. He learned from his experience that his heart has to remain alone with nobody else to bind it to, for his love remained unrequited. He has finally come to the conclusion that she does not love him at all. So the Farewell is final and terminating.

      There are instances in other Marguerite poems giving some evidence that Marguerite loved him too, at least in the beginning of their relationship. In this poem there is no evidence for even that. The pain of unrequited love can be read in these lines, but no passionate intensity of that disappointment is to be found anywhere in the poem.

2. Back with.....Latmiat steen, Line 19-24

      Here Arnold talks of the 'thrill of shame' he felt at his unrequited love for his Marguerite. He compares it with the feeling of the moon goddess when Endymion failed to reciprocate her love for him.

      Arnold says that after failing to get his love for Marguerite reciprocated, he is 'back' in his mental solitude or isolation. He is very conscious of the shame of his failure but there is a thrill in that failure. His feeling is like the falling of the goddess of moon whose love for the handsome Latimian Shepherd, Endymion was not reciprocated.

      Luna, the moon goddess, one day found the handsome Shepherd, Endymion sleeping on the steepy mountain, Latmos. She left her starry abode, went to him and kissed him. She caused him to sleep for ever so that she can watch his beauty. Arnold wants to emphasise the point that the love of Luna for Endymion was not consummated. His love for Marguerite too remained unconsummated. The Latmian mountains do have pine forests aplenty.

3. Yes she.....alone. Line. 25-30

      After telling about the similarity between Arnold's love for Marguerite and Luna's love for Endymion he goes on to tell the difference too. Arnold has learned that human love is futile. But the goddess of the sky hasn't learnt that.

      Luna, the queen of heaven and the goddess of chastity has never realized the futility of human love. But Arnold has realized from his own experience that love among humans is futile; that he has been alone, he is and so will he be in future too.

      According to one version of the Luna-Endymion story the latter was transformed into an immortal by Zeus, the supreme god. So Luna knows only the unconsummated love of mortals; not of humans. But Arnold has known the nature of human love from his conscious thrill of shame at his unrequited love.

      In the last line of the stanza 'thou' gets a wider meaning to mean the whole mankind. He means that it is the fate of a man to remain isolated. Man was isolated in the past, is so at present, and will be so in the future.

4. Or, if not.....happier men. Line. 31-36

      After mentioning unavoidable loneliness he feels and adds that he has ways of relieving his loneliness. He is not that lonely for he comes in contact with the clouds, variation between night and day, gloomy Autumn and bright Spring, the happiness and sorrows of others, and the love between others, if at all there is true love in the world. All these are uniting things. They do not come in contact with each other creating an intimacy that defeats loneliness.

      Arnold, here betrays his love of nature. One of the consolations in this life, where man is alone, is the beauty that nature offers. A feeling of oneness with the beautiful things of nature may relieve man from his isolation. However, those being 'unmating' things, there cannot be very intimate contact with them.

      Another consolation comes from watching happier (than the author) people who love each other, if at all there is love in this world. The pain of unrequited love is to be found in these lines though that feeling is very restrained, rather hidden in understatements. 'Love... of happier men, makes it obvious that he feels very unhappy at his unrequited love. Further we find some pessimism in the parenthesis 'if love'. Some people are happy thinking that they love each other. Arnold who doesn't believe in the existence of true love cannot be happy like them. So they are happier than the poet. This view is elaborated in the last stanza.

5. "Of happier.....loveliness. Line 37-423

      Here Arnold says those people whom he qualified as happier than he himself is, are not really happy. They only think that they are happy.

      These people are happier for they have belief in the potency of love. They believe that love can blend two individuals into one if they love one another sincerely. This belief removes the sense of isolation they would have otherwise felt. However, according to Arnold, their thinking is erroneous. Their real isolation is not lessened even a bit by their thinking that they are not isolated. Arnold appears to be unduly pessimistic here. Marguerite didn't requite his love and from that premise he comes to the conclusion that there is no possibility of true love in this world. This appears a little unreasonable. In Dover Beach, Arnold addresses his beloved (presumably his wife) and says

Ah Love, let us be true
To one another.

      We find him like that happier man described here shows belief in the power of love, if not to blend the twain into one, at least to give a little ease in this joyless world. Surely Arnold felt slightly less isolated in her company in that poem. Perhaps the present poem is only an expression of a depressed mood than of any philosophic truth.

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