Stanzas From The Grande Chartreuse: Summary & Analysis

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      Stanzas From The Grande Chartreuse first published in the Fraser's Magazine in 1855, appeared in New Poems of 1867. It was classified as an elegiac poem late.

      On 7 September 1851, while honeymooning in Europe, Arnold visited the Monastery of Grande Chartreuse, about 3300 feet above sea level among the mountains of South eastern France. He heard the prayers of the monks during a Mass and was much impressed by the life they lived. Grande Chartreuse is the chief monastery of the monks of the Carthusian order, set up by St. Bruno in 1086. They practised abstinence, wore coarse clothes, and ate only vegetables and coarse bread. Each monk had a separate dwelling inside the monastery and they have common assembly twice during day and once during night. They routinely studied the scriptures, meditated, prayed and did all the manual work of the place. No talking takes place except on Sundays. A walk was taken once in a week. The Carthusians invented several kinds of liqueur but the method of their manufacture was a guarded secret. The profits from its sale was used for the upkeep of the place. Arnold makes a reference to the herbs grown in the place (for making the liquor) in Lines 55-60. However, a few inaccurate details are found in the poem; one is mentioning the Carthusians as being buried in their beds and the other is the Host passing from hand to hand. One has to conclude that Arnold visited the place as a casual outsider and not as an intimate insider. Then one has to remember that Arnold's interest did not lie in the monastery practices of the Carthusians. The Grande Chartreuse is only a symbol of a thought and belief that had vanished. Stopford Brooke says that "The high emotion and thought of a heart worn more by sorrow for the world than by its own pain, fills these verses to the brim. The wisdom of joy is not in them, but the wisdom of pain is. Yet they look forward; waiting for the light with weary eyes, with faint hope which has at least slain despair. Meanwhile, he cries, while we wait and hope, allow us our tears, our solitude, our absence from the gayer world. Let its bright procession pass. Leave us to our monastic peace".

      The poem contains a couple of lines. of Arnold, very often quoted to illustrate his religious attitude during the time the poem was published.

Wandering between two worlds one dead
The other powerless to be born.

      The one dead is that of the Christian faith which lost its base as the scientific ideas of the nineteenth century became more and more appealing to the intellectuals of the time. The other, possibly what Arnold thought to be a truer faith, has not yet emerged. The poet watches the religious rituals of the secluded community of monks, but feels that he does not fit in the place. All the same he finds a similarity between his position and that of the monks: both are the targets of the mockery of the worldly-wise. He goes on to say that Byron's haughty scorn, Shelley's lonely wail and Obermann's sad stern book have not changed the world for the better. There is nothing we can do except to wait in tears for a world that is sagely without being harsh and happy without being frivolous. He disparages the worldly-wise outlook of the times as materialistic. He ends the poem with an analogy of children living in an old world abbey. The antithesis there is not between the monks and the outside world, but between serious searchers of truth like Arnold himself (the children) and the charlation-prophets and agnostic philosophers (hunters and soldiers). Some critics are of opinion that the poet's intellectual position as described in the poem is rather confused. It is possible the rational attitude of the poet got disturbed when he came across with the religious fervour of the Carthusian monks.


      Line. 1-6: The journey Arnold and his wife made in 1851, to the monastery, up the mountains is described here. They passed through the meadows of Alps on a wet day. While going through the narrow path (mule-track) one can see crocus flowers and ruins of old forges. They cross the bridge and go up the mountain slope.

      Line. 7-12: The Autumn evening darkens as the wind-lashed rain falls. From far below, the muffled sound of the stream, Dead Guier, (Guier's Mort in French), could be heard. White vapours could be seen rising from that stream giving rise to a brooding mood.

      Line. 13-18: White clouds move swiftly past rough limestones and irregularly shaped pines. They are sometimes seen and sometimes hidden. Then suddenly among the clouds something is seen shining; they are the huts of Courrerie, somewhere a little up in the wet valley.

      Line. 19-24: Directed by the guide the party turn leftward. The stony forest way now becomes steeper. Soon they are above the tree line and in the rainy grey lime-light they could see pointed roofs of buildings that look like a palace of an ancient king of France.

      Line. 25-30: They go ahead for this is the place they wanted to reach. They get down and have a light supper and rest in the outhouse; then they cross the lawn, reach the gate and knock, pass the wicket and they are in the world famous grand monastery of the Carthusian monks.

      Line. 31-36: In the silent courtyards fountains splash cold water into stone basins night and day. In the humid corridors monks, appearing like ghosts in their cowls and white tunic move around.

      Line. 37-42: In the chapel they do not have any organ; their prayer is grave and simple. They kneel with utterances of repentance, and do obeisance vigorously. Then they rise without the cowl on their head and pass on the Host from one to another, all the time keeping their faces looking down.

      (Host is the holy eucharistic bread, which symbolises the body of Jesus Christ Arnold is evidently wrong here. The Host is never passed on from one to another. The officiating priest passes on a small piece of it into the mouth of the receiver. Arnold might have confused with some other holy ritual they practiced.)

      Line. 43-48: After receiving the Host each one covers his head again in the cowl. In their calls they have the picture or icon or carved figure of crucified Christ, on the wall. The floor is worn out because of the continual kneeling. The wooden bed where they sleep will be used to make their coffin when they die.

      Line. 49-54: The big and small books of their library are not aimed at proudly praising the activities of Roman Catholic church; neither are they meant to amuse as the English church is doing. On the other hand those books describe the inner struggle, the martyrdom, shedding of blood and the story of the conquering of the worldly desires of great souls.

      Line. 55-60: The garden, though overgrown, is amiable. Many fragrant plants of the Alpine wilderness are flowering there. Tending those plants is the only worldly work the monks do. And this they do cheerfully.

      (The monks of Grande Chartreuse used to make famous liqueurs, the method of manufacture was a guarded secret. Many wild herbs were used for that purpose. The profits from the sale of the liqueur contributed to the upkeep of the monasteries of their order).

      Line. 61-66: He saw the several halls meant for pilgrims of olden days who visited the place from countries like England, Germany and Spain. The house of the brothers are certainly an austere place. Then Arnold asks himself, why he has come to such a place.

      Line. 67-72: From youth onwards he was influenced by rigid teachers, removed superstition from his mind, encouraged his enquiring spirit and showed him the shining Truth high up. They made him watch that Truth and aspire to acquire it. Even now he appears to hear their voice reaching him through the gloom of the place, asking him why he has come to a joyless place (living tomb).

      Line. 73-78: Arnold begs the forgiveness of those masters who helped him to discard many earlier beliefs and become a detached person. He has come here not to disregard their teachings, and to oppose the Truth they had shown him.

      Line. 79-84: He does not speak as a sympathiser or a follower of these monks. But he is here like a Greek who on seeing an ancient inscribed pagan stone, remembers his pagan Gods. Both are thinking of their vanished faith. (Christianity for Arnold and paganism for the Greek).

      Line. 85-90: Arnold is moving between two creeds; one is dead and gone and the other is not strong enough to establish itself. With nothing to give rest to his disquiet mind, like these monks, Arnold too is waiting lonely and melancholic. The worldly-wise people mock both at the poet's melancholy, and the faith of the monks. He has come to express his sorrow (because there is a kinship between him and the monks. The 'world derides' him and the monks).

      Line. 91-96: The poet makes an agonised appeal to the monastery to keep him in it hidden from the world. He wants the monks to surround him until he gets back his soul, and makes his thoughts free from the unwelcome restraints.

      Line. 97-102: The worldly-wise people think that the Carthusians, faith is an outdated one. And superficial thinkers say that the poet's melancholy is an old fashioned theme. It is ironical for the worldly-wise never had faith in anything at all and superficial thinkers had never experienced melancholy.

      Line. 103-108: If they are (faith, and melancholy) outmoded, then there must be an alternative way to remove the restlessness and pain from life, so that man may not depend upon the outmoded ways. If there is no nobleness in grief, why can't the sufferings of the poet and the monks be removed.

      Line. 109-114: But if the world cannot give the poet and people like him, (the last of the set who seek shelter in melancholy) the peace they desire, allow them to live a life-like that of the monks. They are the last of the believers, and remain silent as they grow old. The best of the people are remaining silent now.

      Line. 115-120: The man of action (Achilles) remains silent in his tent. The great thinkers of the time are puzzled and they have nothing to offer. Though not content, they remain silent, awaiting to see the future turn up on its, own bringing in relief. They have the same sorrow that troubled people of olden ages, but they do not grumble and indulge into disputations.

      (Achilles, the Greek hero, having picked up a quarrel with Agamemnon, sulked and remained in his tent withdrawing from fighting. Later when he rejoined the fight, Greeks won many combats).

      Achilles and the kings of modern thought symbolize perhaps the active and intellectual life of the times, in neither of which can the poet find much solace. Sir Edmund Chambers however, thinks that Achilles stands for Cardinal Newman, who on his return from Rome, founded with Froude the Lyra Apostolica, the motto of which was paraphrased from Achilles' words in Iiad XVII "They shall know the difference, now I am back".

      Line. 121-126: Our forefathers made great sacrifices for the spiritual nourishment of others. Their thoughts influence the life of others who cared to follow them. Still the same sea of life is around us with all the spiritual strife and we can only match them helplessly (The positive influence of the sages of old is no longer felt now).

      Line. 127-132: The messages and philosophy of the men of the past are of no value today. Their descendants, are not happier now and life is not at all lighter to them. They suffered and died leaving the pain behind. The same pain they felt by people even today.

      Line. 133-138: Byron challenged the smart society in his haughty way and exhibited the sufferings of his passionate heart throughout Europe till Greece. (Aetolia is a province of Greece). But it does not help the present day people though many people pitied him, studied his poems minutely and read their own passions into them.

      (Byron died in Greece while helping the Greek freedom war against the Turks. His poems of passion and amoral love remained very popular throughout Europe during his life time).

      Line. 139-144: The lovely mournful poems of Shelley with its musical quality spread upto Italy and the bay of Spezzia. But nothing good to others has come out of it now. The same distress that troubled him and the disquietude are still felt by people.

      (Shelley was drowned in a yacht mishap in the bay of Spezia in the year 1822).

      Line. 145-150: Neither are we wiser, now that we have read the sad and serious novel Obermann (written by Senancour) that tells how the author faced the fury of his countrymen by withdrawing to Fontainebleau and to the villas of the Snowy Alps. (Senancour's contemporaries subjected him to unmerited and severe criticism and he had to withdraw from the madding crowd to the solitude of Fontainebleau and Alpine resorts).

      Line. 151-156: He (Senancour) lies buried in his grave. The world valued the sadness mentioned in his work for a brief period. But now no once cares for his works and his philosophy, at the present, though men like Arnold and men like him remain influenced by his thoughts.

      Line. 157-162: The poot foresees the breaking in of an age when people remain wise without being harsh, jovial without being silly. He requests the people of the world to hasten the coming of that age. But until that age is ushered in the author and others like him may be allowed to express their melancholy thoughts, without being condemned.

      Line. 163-168: Allow people like the author to express their sadness. They admire the achievements of the Victorian age, the materialistic progress, the Scientific progress and its triumphs over time and space and many such successes. But the author and akin people consider those to be alien to them.

      Line. 169-174: They (the poet and akin people) are like children brought up under the shade of an abbey, in a forest hidden from other people. (Their bringing up, their education and their culture, were secluded from that of the common man, even like the Carthusian monks).

      Line. 175-180: But they can see, through the trees, in an occasionally flash, a procession of soldiers (men of action) their flags and lances shining in the sun, moving on the road banking the stream. They are proceeding in the wordly life, the life of cities and of war.

      Line. 181-186: From another part of the wood, bugle sound is heard. The children can see, hunters assemble with their hounds near a forest lodge. Happy ladies are present and frequently the sound of laughter and merry making can be heard.

      Line. 187-192: The flashing banners seen through the trees attract the attention of the children. The bugle music reaches them and in the wind and surprises them. The banners and the bugles are inducing the recluse children too to join the procession.

      Line. 193-198: The poet asks what their reply to the invitation would be. They would reply. "You are roaming through this place for action and pleasure. Are you calling us too to join you? You have come too late for us to join. Our way of life, different from yours, was decided earlier. We are not suitable for your company

      Line. 199-204: "We have been brought up under the protection of faith watching the holy lamp shining on the altar. The organ music of the church reminds of a pleasure different from yours".

      Line. 205-210; "Brought up in a life of faith (cloistral round), of visions and meditations in semi-dark places, we will not be able to thrive in a different culture like yours. We will not be able to function in an alien kind of life. So you banners do pass on; you bugles, be quiet and leave us in peace, in our forsaken place, undisturbed".


      Intensely Personal and Philosophical: Stanzas From The Grande Chartreuse is highly reflective and philosophic poem of Arnold is one of his best known. The author appears to be justifying his failure to identify himself with the materialistic life that thrice around him. Probably this poem best illustrates his own dictum that poetry is a criticism of life. The poem is intensely personal for the spiritual doubts and scepticism depicted in it had troubled Arnold's life almost throughout his life. There are ample comments on the life of the Carthusians in the living tombs", Byron's "pageant of his bleeding heart", Shelley's 'lovely wail', Senancour's 'sad stern page' and the silence of the 'kings of modern thought'. We find the clear contrast between the life of the Carthusians on the one hand and the life of action (soldiers) and the life of pleasure (hunters with gay domes) on the other. The life of those like Carthusians, secluded and melancholic, may appear as life in tombs, to men of action and pleasure hunters; but they enjoy a sort of peace of their own which the worldly-wise are not able to realize. Allow them to continue their life in their desert-gloom, without being disturbed by the march of material progress and bohemian life.

      Personal Note: The poem deals with the spiritual uncertainty and the restlessness of the inner self that troubled Arnold. Line. 67-96 deals with the rational. influence on his own life. The rigorous teachers mentioned in Line. 67 possibly are Spinoza, Senancour, Goethe, Carlyle etc. That influence made Arnold shed his earlier religious faith and become a seeker of Truth. He says that those teachers.

seized my youth,
And purged its faith and trimm'd its fire,
Show'd me the high white star of Truth,
There baec me gaze, and there aspire.

      But in place of the faith that has vanished, no satisfactory philosophy has taken its scat. So we find him;

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest,

      And like the Carthusians, he wanders, 'forlorn' in this world. The wordly-wise people mock at the life of the Carthusians and the melancholy tone in Arnold's poems. He complains: Their faith, my tears the world deride'. So he has gone to get a little comfort from the Grande Chartreuse. If this journey is to be taken as an allegory of Arnold's mind moving towards Christian faith, there is obvious inconsistency in the poem. The rigorous teachers could not have approved such a move. In Line. 72 the poet hears their voice reaching him through the gloom, 'what dost thou in this living tomb?' He replies in his mind, that he has not come there disregarding their teaching. He does not talk, as a friend of the Carthusians. He only has reverential curiosity in the monks. He looks at them only as a modern Greek looks at the ruins of a pagan Greek temple. However, at the end of the poem, in Line. 193-210 we find Arnold holding a brief for the Carthusians. There we find Arnold's obvious sympathy. He says the monks do have a kind of peace born out of hope.

They, watch those yellow tapers shine
Emblems of hope over the grave.
In the high alter's depth divine.

      Surely Arnold hints that they enjoy a peace because of their belief in another world. By 'hope over the grave' Arnold means belief in life after death. Line 203-204 repeats the idea differently.

The organ carries to our ear
Its accents of another sphere.

      That is the sphere of heaven, where the believer is to reach after his death. The discrepancy is clear. At times we find Arnold a seeker of truth, under the influence of rigorous teachers of his youth. At other times he is sympathising with, if not glorifying, the Christian belief in the other world. Perhaps this conflict between reason and faith had been with him all the while; and the poem shows its acuteness.

      Atmosphere of gloom: The characteristic melancholy of Arnold is seen rather in a more than usual intensity in this poem. The journey itself is described against a gloomy setting. Autumnal evening darkens round. (L7) They go past dark forges'. Dead Guier's stream and the mist that broods can be seen below. The path up the hill is narrow. The buildings are austere. Icy fountains and ghost-like forms are there. The whole description emphasizes gloom.

      But the gloom associated with the thought is darker. He has reached the place of the Carthusians to shed his tears 'at their side'. The wailing request;

Oh, hide me in your gloom profound

      Shows that his sadness verges on despair. The intensity of the despair is again clear when he says

take away
At least, the restlessness--the pain!

      No philosophy or thought of times ancient or modern can relieve him of the pain. They are all silent, including the kings of modern thought. Neither can the life and works of Byron, Shelley or Senancour could lessen the suffering of humanity. Arnold's melancholy is not the result born of his personal troubles or difficulties. It is a nobler one, a melancholy arising out of his concern for the whole humanity. He is unhappy that the technological and material progress has not lessened the sufferings of the world. Neither has mankind acquired wisdom that ennobles the soul, and removes the restlessness from the mind. However, there is one solitary note of optimism, in the poem. The poet tells of the possibility of a new happy age dawning in:

There may, perhaps, yet dawn an age
More fortunate, alas than we.

      There is a 'perhaps' but still it is an optimistic note. One can realise at least what Arnold longs for. And there is brightness in that hope. But until such a 'sage' world is ushered in, Arnold says, he has to resort to his melancholy.

      Pictorial description: The beginning of the poem is a testimony to the descriptive power of Arnold. Line. 1-24 gives the scenic description of the way to the Grande Chartreuse and Line. 25-66 describes the buildings, the courtyard and the life of the monks. "The Alpine meadows soft-suffused with rain", 'past the gorges', up the mountainside is quite realistic and lively. The Autumnal evening that darkens round, the wind that drives the rain, the 'wet smoke' brooding over the boiling cauldron, and the swift rush of spectral vapours which give a movie-like effect to the vivid description. The 'strangled sound' with which Dead Guier's stream complains is an audio image suiting the mood of the poem. The sudden appearance of the "huts of Courrerie" is pleasantly startling and the poet stops a while to look at them 'high in the valley wet and drear'. As they 'strike leftward' the road becomes steeper, winding through stony forest-way. Then they reach above the tree line and the buildings of Grande Chartreuse, that look like a palace of French kings appear. The poet, by choosing an Autumnal wet evening and by choosing words associated with gloom has set an appropriate introduction to the gloomy thoughts that are to follow.

      Description of the monastery (Line. 25-66): The building's from the outhouses are described with the main purpose of revealing the austerity of the place. The silent courts, the icy fountains, humid corridors and spectre-like cowl'd forms give a gloomy but vivid picture of the life of the monks. The chapel has no organs in it and is 'stern': Only while receiving the holy communion do the monks remove their cowl from their head. Their library contains books dealing with sufferings of great saints and their sacrifices.

      There are halls where in ancient times pilgrims from far away countries rested. The gardens had fragrant herbs rather overgrown but not wild. The atmosphere is heavy and austere, agreeing with reclusive life of the monks.

      Evaluation of Byron, Shelley and Senancour: Incidentally Arnold makes some pity and accurate evaluation of the Romantics, Byron, Shelley and Senancour. There is not much in Byron's poetry to teach others but the courage with which he "mocked the smart" is mentioned with admiration. His poems were "a pageant of his bleeding heart". Shelley's poems were a "lovely wail" and the music spread through the Italian trees to the bay of Spezzia. Senancour's books were sad and stern but he had to seek shelter in the solitude of Fountainbleau and Alpine rest houses escaping from the scathing criticism of his contemporaries. However, their work and their life did not help at all in lessening the restlessness and the pain of mankind.

      Some weaknesses: There are some weak passages, certain obscurities and a few discrepancies in the poem. Duffin has quoted Line. 104-5,

Ah, if it be pass'd, take away
At least, the restlessness-the pain.

      He rightly says that it is not certain what it' in Line. 104 means. None can be sure whether it is Arnold's melancholy or the faith of the Carthusians; if both, a plural pronoun ought to have been used. Neither one can get a clear idea who the you and us in Line. 109 signify.

      "My melancholy sciolists say" is considered to be a very bad line. A few more examples of weak lines may be found in the poem, here and there. 'Achilles' in line Line. 115 remains obscure. Equally obscure is the 'the kings of modern thought'. Further there is obvious discrepancy in the thought process of the poem. On one occasion the poet considers himself the sincere pupil of the rigorous teachers. On a later occasion he identifies himself with the Carthusians. Certainly there is some confusion, the same confusion which remained in Arnold's mind involving faith and reason. As he has not solved that conflict in personal life, that unsolved live conflict got reflected in this intensely personal poem. Again, Arnold says in the beginning of the poem that there are no organs in the Carthusian chapel. However at the end in the analogy of the children living in the abbey he mentions the organ;

The organ carries to our car
Its accents of another sphere.

      A few inaccuracies too are to be found in one or two places. Arnold's mentioning of;

Passing the Host from hand to hand,

      Is obviously the result of wrong conclusion. The 'Host' is never passed from hand to hand during the Mass or any part of that service The officiating priest administers it into the mouth of the penitent believer. Arnold might have mistaken something else, an icon or so with the Host. Later, describing the austerity of the life of the monks Arnold says

Where they sleep, that wooden bed
Which shall be their coffin be, when dead.

      There is no evidence to think that the monks were buried in the rooms nor that their coffins were made out of the wooden bed on which they used to sleep. But these drawbacks, inaccuracies and minor obscurities do not prevent, us from appreciating this melancholically personal poem.

      The extended metaphor in the end: Line. 169-210 gives a description of children brought up in an old abbey. They are allegorical or symbolical representations of people like Matthew Arnold and becomes indistinguishable from the Carthusian monks. They get an occasional glimpse of the soldiers marching in procession through the woods around with banners and bugles. They also see hunters with their hounds and lovely dames assembled in another part of the wood. Both the group seemingly invite the children to join them. The children refuse saying that they have already established a way of life and the intruders may leave them alone and go away.

      The soldiers stand for the men of action, scientists, technologists and other men who matter in the materialistic world. The hunters stand for the pleasure seekers. The children are people like Arnold and the Carthusians who are not able to take to the worldly ways so easily. The poets ascending the mountain to the Grande Chartreuse is an allegorical picture of re-ascending to his own childhood when religious faith was firmly rooted.


Through Alpine.....beneath the sun. Line 1-60

      This is a description of the journey the poet makes to La Grande Chartreuse, the chief house of the monks of the Carthusian order.

      Saint Laurent: The Grand monastery was situated in South eastern France at the foot of high mountains, at an altitude of 1000 mts. St. Laurent is a small town between the monastery, and the South eastern city of Grenoble.

      Dead Guier's stream: is the anglicised name of the stream, known is Gierle Mort in French. There is another Gier, Le Vif. Correrie: a wild mountain tribe who live in that area.

      World famed home: Carthusian order was founded by St. Bruno in 1086. Many monasteries of the order were established around the world and they be came very well known. The French government expelled them in 1793 but were reinstated in 1816. But they were finally expelled in 1903, when the monastery became state property. The building is a huge, plain looking pile. Line 31-66 gives the main features of the monastery. The silent compounds, the icy fountains working day and night, the ghostly cowled monks moving around the humid corridors in gleaming white etc. present an appropriate setting for the gloomy thoughts of the poem.

      Chapel where no organs peal: the austere life of the Carthusians do not allow any indulgence in instrumental music. The prayer is very austere ('stern and naked').

      Passing the Host from hand to hand: Arnold appears to have gone wrong here. The 'Host' is the sacred bread, which according to the belief of the faithful. becomes, during the prayers, the flesh of the crucified Christ. The officiating priest administers a tiny peace of it into the mouth of the believer. It is never passed on from one to another among the worshippers. Perhaps Arnold might have seen them undergoing some other ritual where something was passed from one to another.

      To hymn the conquering march of Rome: Libraries of ordinary Roman Catholic organization contain books that glorify the self-aggrandizing aspect of the church of Rome.

      To amuse, as ours are: Arnold hints at the pleasure seeking aspect of the church of England. There is very little of spiritualism among the English protestants, according to Arnold.

      The garden over grown yet mild: The Carthusians used to make world famous liqueurs the sale of which went to the upkeep of the monasteries. Liqueur is any of several strong sweet alcoholic drinks variously flavoured, and usually drunk after the meals. The herbs supply the flavour. The Carthusians kept the manufacturing process of their liqueur a guarded secret. The herbs in the garden obviously were grown for the purpose of liqueur making. They were 'overgrown', for they were not trimmed like ornamental plants. However they were 'mild' for the herbs did not give a very wild appearance to the garden. The only worldly activity the inmates of the monastery indulged into, according to Arnold, was tending those herbs. However, the poet noticed that it was a cheerful work beneath the sun.

For rigorous tomb? Line. 67-72

      Here Arnold says that during his youth he was influenced by rigid teachers. Those teachers gave direction to his spiritual aspirations and inspired him to follow Truth always. Arnold's visiting the Grande Chartreuse where the monks live a life in death (living tombs) does not appear to agree with the teachings of the teachers of his youth. That is why their whispers reach Arnold even in the gloom of the monastery. The rigorous teachers mentioned, one has to conclude, possibly are, Goethe, Senancour, Spinoza, Carlyle, Dean Stanley and probably his own father Thomas Arnold. None of them would have considered a monastic life laudable. His visit to the place is not to disapprove of what they have taught him. Neither does he speak in sympathy with the philosophy of life of the Carthusians. It is like a Greek watching ruins of an ancient Greek temple and think of the gods of his forefathers, Arnold is viewing the Grande Chartreuse. A modern Greek does not believe in the paganism of the ancient Greeks, say that existed at the time of Socrates. Nevertheless, the sight of the Runic stone, is likely to arouse some curiosity, possibly reverential, in the mind of the Greeks. So there is a clear parallel between Arnold and the Greek. The Greek will be pondering over a belief of his forefathers, the Greek paganism. Arnold is pondering over Christian faith of the Carthusians, in which Arnold's and his generation do not believe, with a mere curiosity.

      The passage clearly indicates Arnold as a person who has lost faith in Christian religion. Further by equating Christianity with paganism of the Greeks (both were faiths, and both are gone) Arnold says the Christian faith has already vanished. Perhaps Arnold is not completely right. Faith in Christianity might have declined. Almost a century after Arnold's writing the poem the Christian faith still survives, at least in a modified form. Probably Arnold means that the superstitions or the irrational part of religion, the blind faith similar to that of the Carthusians, have vanished.

Wandering between .... their side. Line. 85-90

      These are some of the oft-quoted lines of Arnold that tells of the spiritual vacuum that existed in Arnold's mind. He considers himself a person without his moorings wandering between two cultural worlds, of which one is dead, but the other is not strong enough to establish itself. Certainly the 'one dead' is the culture based on the Christian faith. Victorian age saw the death of Christian belief, held passionately by generations of people. The causes of the death are many, but the progress of science had a great role in it. But science and its culture failed to give an alternative to mankind that can give a meaning to life. This inability to give a satisfactory alternative to religion is mentioned by the phrase "powerless to be born". There is a cultural vacuum in the mind of thinking men during Arnold's time. Religion when it held sway, gave a meaning to life. It was something for people to live by. An alternative to that something has not come up and consequently there is a restlessness, a disquietude among thinking men.

      There is some similarity between the Carthusians and Arnold. People now disparage the gloomy life of the Carthusians. So also they disparage the melancholic tone in Arnold's poetry. ('There faith, my tears, the world deride').

      Because of this kindness of his to the Carthusians, he has come to the Grande Chartreuse to express his melancholic thoughts.

For the world cries .... been sad. Line. 97-102

      Here Arnold finds some similarity between the Carthusians and himself. The worldly-wise people think that the Carthusian faith is an outmoded one, and deride it. So also the Charlatan-thinkers considers the melancholic tone of Arnold's poetry outmoded. This appears an irony to Arnold for the worldly wise never had a faith and the pseudo-thinkers never know what the melancholy of Arnold means Arnold's derision of the worldly-wise and the pseudo-thinkers comes out clearly in the passage. Cultured, in the classical tradition he could not tolerate mediocrity and he fought a life-long battle against philistinism, a word he coined to describe the mediocre middle class which had no capacity for high thinking. The 'worldly' people are engrossed.

Ah if it be .... fret alone. Line. 103-108

      Arnold here tells the worldly-wise to suggest any alternative to the faith they deride and the melancholy of his own which they disparage. At least the faith of the olden days was able to take away the restlessness and the pain from life. Now if the world says that faith in religion is irrational and useless let the restlessness and pain be removed by other means so that people need not depend upon the outmoded religion. So also is the sadness in the poetry. It is the expression of the disquietude in life, and the pain he felt. Show him how to lessen his disquietude and pain; and then the sad tone will disappear from his poem. Along with the vanishing of religious faith the nobleness in grief is gone. As a result life has become fretful.

      In these lines Arnold appears to be holding a brief for blind faith which was able to keep life peaceful, may be based on superstition. If that is so there is discrepancy between Line. 67-78 and this stanza. Certainly this stanza is denying the truth of Arnold's rigorous teachers of youth. Further in Line. 79 Arnold says:

Not as their friend or child I speak.

      Obviously their means that of the Carthusians. But in the given lines Arnold strongly champions their cause.

      Many critics consider that some confusion of thought is found in the poem. One thing which appears certain is this: that Arnold was wavering between faith and agnosticism, sometimes identifying himself with one and sometimes with the other. He calls the Carthusians,

Last of the race of them who grieve (Line. 110)

      Arnold considers himself as one of those people who feel unhappy at the intellectual and spiritual state the world is in. He thinks that soon, with the progress of material mindedness, no one will be bothered about the intellectual and spiritual degradation, that is taking place.

      Last of the people who believe. (Line. 112) are obviously the Carthusian monks. But in a wider sense it includes all those who still believe blindly in the old way of life thereby making the Carthusians a symbol.

Achilles ponders ... cry no more. Line. 115-120

      Arnold says that in the spiritual vacuum of contemporary life, there is nothing much man can do except to remain silent and wait patiently for a better world to turn up. And the best people of the world are remaining silent.

      Achilles the powerful man of action is thinking in his tent. The greatest thinkers of the world have nothing to suggest for the alienation of the modern predicament of man; They are not contented with the present. Silently they await the future to form itself. They have the same grief of people of earlier times, but they do not cry over it nor argue on it.

      By Achilles, Arnold may be meaning any man of consequence as Achilles was among the Greeks. Quarrelling over a woman, with king Agamemnon, Achilles the Greek hero withdrew from the war of Troy for a time and during that period Greek side had to face defeats in many combats. Later he came back to fight and slew Hector, the Trojan Hero.

      Sir, Edmund Chambers thinks, by Achilles, Arnold meant Cardinal Newman who, on his return from Rome founded with Fronde Lyra Apostolica. The motto of the society was paraphrased from Homer's Iliad XVIII. "They shall know the difference, now I am back, words of Achilles when he rejoined the Trajon War.

Our fathers .... them remain Line. 121-132

      Here Arnold says that despite the contributions of our forefathers life still is painful. Qur fathers in Line. 121 refers to the younger Romantics. They have poured out the agony of their life, into the world through their poems. AIl men listened to their voice for their voice was powerful (puissant). But the sea of life is the same and silently we watch the troubles of life (waves).

      All the hue and cry they made about the troubles of life they faced, were of no use to the following generation. The descendents are not at all more joyful nor are their hearts free of troubles. They suffered and died, but the causes of their sufferings are still present in the world.

What helps .... her own? Line. 133-137

      After telling that the 'puissant hail' of the earlier generation (The younger romantics) and their outpourings of their sufferings into the world were futile, Arnold takes the case of Byron, and tells that his influence has not lessened the troubles of the contemporary Europe. Byron, haughtily mocked the smart worldly-wise people and made his sufferings known to the people of Europe upto the Greek coast. Many were his admires and they keenly watched his personal suffering, and they felt them as their own. But all that does not help the present generation at all.

      Arnold never appreciated the outpouring of the personal sufferings found in the poems of the younger romantics. Of Byron, he said in the Memorial Verses, he taught us little. However, here Arnold appears to appreciate Byron's great courage and recognizes the wide popularity he enjoyed in the continent of Europe. The 'Aetolian shore', or the 'Greek shore' suggests Byron's going to Greece to help the struggle of that country to free itself from Turkish rule and his subsequent death there.

What boots .... the less? Line. 139-144

      After telling the futility of Byron's courage and exhibitionism Arnold passes on to comment on Shelley's role. The winds carried the voice of Shelley's musical mourn to Italy, and to the bay of Spezzia. It sung of his distress. Still his descendants have inherited the same distress and the Shelleyan mourning has not lessened the heart-aches of Arnold's contemporaries even a bit.

      Arnold who appreciates Shelley more than Byron, here, nevertheless, qualified him as an "ineffectual angel beating his luminous wings in the void". "The breeze carried thy lovely wail" may be a reference to poems like Ode to the West-wind, which has a wild but lovely music similar to the character of Shelley him-self. 'Spezzian bay' alludes to the Bay of Spezia where Shelley met his death in a yacht mishap.

Or are we .... Alpine snow? Line. 145-150

      After telling that the outpourings of the personal sufferings of Byron and Shelley have not made the world any better Arnold discusses Senancour's life.

      The sad and solemn story of Obermann show that he sought shelter in the solitude of Alpine cottages and the Fontainebleau countryside, to escape the fierce opposition of his countrymen. But a reading of his book does not leave people any happier in the world. Arnold had a great regard for Senancour. He wrote two poems Obermann and Obermann Once More in honour of its author. Senancour (1770-1846) the French novelist wrote about his personal sufferings and strife in his psychological romance Obermann. Obermann is depicted as a melancholy egoist. Arnold placed Senancour on a high pedestal along with Wordsworth and Goethe.

There may, .... allow our tears! Line. 157-162

      In this stanza we find Arnold presenting an optimistic view, for the first time in the poem. He tells of the possibility of the dawn of a happy new era, more fortunate than the present age. Then people will be wiser without being harsh, joyous without being silly. Let the sons of the world hasten up the arrival of such an age. But until that age ushers in, the poet and akin spirits may be allowed to express their melancholic thoughts.

      Perhaps, Arnold, despite being a near agnostic, expresses unconsciously the hope in the millenium, the happy time for the world, after the Second coming of Jesus Christ. Christians believe in it. Or, perhaps, it may be an unconscious reflection of the Hindu belief that when the world grows extremely evil, God incarnates to make it better. Whatever the cause of the optimism may be it is one of the rare expressions in Arnold's poetry and the only one in this otherwise gloomy poem.

Allow them .... are not ours Line. 163-68

      Arnold (and akin spirits) would like to express their gloomy thoughts about the world till an age of happiness is ushered in. He noticed with a certain amount of sarcasm, the achievements of the Victorian age, which the worldly wise are proud of. The Victorians have progressed in science and technology so much that they appear to be the law makers of the world. They think they have conquered time and space. These untiring powerful efforts and their pride in life are matters to be admired. But Arnold and people like him do not feel at home with the Victorian culture that produced all these.

      Arnold is perfectly in the right in being sarcastic about the achievements of his contemporaries. In the first flush of success, Victorians boasted at their achievements in science and technology. People thought that they had become masters of the universe and that they could control time and space. But as the scientific thinking matured, in later years, people became conscious of the insignificance of the puny man in any Einstienian universe, an expanding but finite universe. Further, despite the materialistic progress, world still remains a place of injustice, suffering and misery, cause enough for tears for the humane and the thinking people. Perhaps Arnold could prophetically see that material progress alone will not bring in a happy age. So the sarcasm in Arnold's apparent praise for the Victorian success is justified.

We are like .... desert to its peace Line. 169-210

      Here we find the poet finds a parallel between him and similar people on the one hand with children brought up inside an abbey. A procession of soldiers (men of action) comes nearby. A party of hunters along with jovial ladies (pleasure seekers) too have arrived. They invite the abbey children too to take part in a life of action and pleasure seeking. The poet imagines the possible answer the children are likely to give and describes it. Their way of life have already been set in a particular manner. Now it is too late for them to change their life to one of action or one of pleasure seeking. They would prefer to be left alone in their own kind of life which may appear a desert-life to others. For they enjoy a certain kind of peace in their deserts. So the children tell the procession of men of action and the pleasure seekers to move away quietly leaving them alone. The extended metaphor found in the conclusion of the poem appears to be a favourite device of Arnold. He uses it in The Scholar Gipsy. Tristram and Iseult and Sohrab and Rustom also. Perhaps Arnold's intention is to take the mind of the readers off the melancholy theme of the poem and thereby give a sort of relief to the readers.

      It is necessary to note that the antithesis in the poem is not between the Carthusian monks and the outside world, but between the sober minded enquirers of truth, like Matthew Arnold and the worldly-wise people, men of action and pleasure seekers, represented by the soldiers and the hunters. Arnold and his likes were brought up in a different tradition, where achieving wisdom and truth are the aims of life. That kind of life may appear dreary and dull to the worldly. But they have an amount of peace in that life. Allow them to continue that life.

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