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Matthew Arnold

Birthdate: 24. December 1822
Date of death: 15. April 1888

Matthew Arnold was an English poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator. Matthew Arnold has been characterised as a sage writer, a type of writer who chastises and instructs the reader on contemporary social issues. Wikipedia

Photo: Unknown author / Public domain

Works

Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy
Matthew Arnold
Thyrsis
Matthew Arnold
Empedocles on Etna
Matthew Arnold
Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold
On Translating Homer
On Translating Homer
Matthew Arnold
The Last Word
Matthew Arnold
Sohrab and Rustum
Matthew Arnold
Switzerland
Matthew Arnold

„What actions are the most excellent? Those, certainly, which most powerfully appeal to the great primary human affections: to those elementary feelings which subsist permanently in the race, and which are independent of time.“

—  Matthew Arnold

"Preface to Poems" (1853)
Context: What actions are the most excellent? Those, certainly, which most powerfully appeal to the great primary human affections: to those elementary feelings which subsist permanently in the race, and which are independent of time. These feelings are permanent and the same; that which interests them is permanent and the same also.

„Be neither saint nor sophist-led, but be a man.“

—  Matthew Arnold, book Empedocles on Etna

Act I, sc. ii
Empedocles on Etna (1852)
Context: The sophist sneers: Fool, take
Thy pleasure, right or wrong!
The pious wail: Forsake
A world these sophists throng!
Be neither saint nor sophist-led, but be a man.

„Thou waitest for the spark from heaven!“

—  Matthew Arnold

St. 18
The Scholar Gypsy (1853)
Context: Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—
Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?

„And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.“

—  Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

St. 4
Dover Beach (1867)
Context: Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

„A poetry of revolt against moral ideas is a poetry of revolt against life; a poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life.“

—  Matthew Arnold

Wordsworth, originally published as "Preface to the Poems of Wordsworth" in Macmillan's Magazine (July 1879)
Essays in Criticism, second series (1888)
Context: If what distinguishes the greatest poets is their powerful and profound application of ideas to life, which surely no good critic will deny, then to prefix to the word ideas here the term moral makes hardly any difference, because human life itself is in so preponderating a degree moral.
It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life — to the question, How to live. Morals are often treated in a narrow and false fashion, they are bound up with systems of thought and belief which have had their day, they are fallen into the hands of pedants and professional dealers, they grow tiresome to some of us. We find attraction, at times, even in a poetry of revolt against them; in a poetry which might take for its motto Omar Khayam's words: "Let us make up in the tavern for the time which we have wasted in the mosque." Or we find attractions in a poetry indifferent to them, in a poetry where the contents may be what they will, but where the form is studied and exquisite. We delude ourselves in either case; and the best cure for our delusion is to let our minds rest upon that great and inexhaustible word life, until we learn to enter into its meaning. A poetry of revolt against moral ideas is a poetry of revolt against life; a poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life.

„The what you have to say depends on your age.“

—  Matthew Arnold

Letter to Arthur Hugh Clough (December 1847/early 1848)
Context: Had Shakespeare and Milton lived in the atmosphere of modern feeling, had they had the multitude of new thoughts and feelings to deal with a modern has, I think it likely the style of each would have been far less curious and exquisite. For in a man style is the saying in the best way what you have to say. The what you have to say depends on your age. In the 17th century it was a smaller harvest than now, and sooner to be reaped; and therefore to its reaper was left time to stow it more finely and curiously. Still more was this the case in the ancient world. The poet's matter being the hitherto experience of the world, and his own, increases with every century.

„Not till the hours of light return
All we have built do we discern.“

—  Matthew Arnold

"Morality" (1852), lines 7-12
Context: With aching hands and bleeding feet
We dig and heap, lay stone on stone;
We bear the burden and the heat
Of the long day and wish’t were done.
Not till the hours of light return
All we have built do we discern.

„I knew they lived and moved
Trick'd in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves — and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!“

—  Matthew Arnold

" The Buried Life http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/arnold/writings/buriedlife.html" (1852), st. 2
Context: Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal'd
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal'd
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick'd in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves — and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

„We, in some unknown Power's employ,
Move on a rigorous line“

—  Matthew Arnold

"Stanzas in Memory of the Author of "Obermann"" (1852), st. 34
Context: We, in some unknown Power's employ,
Move on a rigorous line;
Can neither, when we will, enjoy,
Nor, when we will, resign.

„It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life — to the question, How to live.“

—  Matthew Arnold

Wordsworth, originally published as "Preface to the Poems of Wordsworth" in Macmillan's Magazine (July 1879)
Essays in Criticism, second series (1888)
Context: If what distinguishes the greatest poets is their powerful and profound application of ideas to life, which surely no good critic will deny, then to prefix to the word ideas here the term moral makes hardly any difference, because human life itself is in so preponderating a degree moral.
It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life — to the question, How to live. Morals are often treated in a narrow and false fashion, they are bound up with systems of thought and belief which have had their day, they are fallen into the hands of pedants and professional dealers, they grow tiresome to some of us. We find attraction, at times, even in a poetry of revolt against them; in a poetry which might take for its motto Omar Khayam's words: "Let us make up in the tavern for the time which we have wasted in the mosque." Or we find attractions in a poetry indifferent to them, in a poetry where the contents may be what they will, but where the form is studied and exquisite. We delude ourselves in either case; and the best cure for our delusion is to let our minds rest upon that great and inexhaustible word life, until we learn to enter into its meaning. A poetry of revolt against moral ideas is a poetry of revolt against life; a poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life.

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„Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?“

—  Matthew Arnold

St. 18
The Scholar Gypsy (1853)
Context: Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—
Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?

„Forgive me, masters of the mind!
At whose behest I long ago
So much unlearnt, so much resign'd —
I come not here to be your foe!“

—  Matthew Arnold

Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse (1855)
Context: Forgive me, masters of the mind!
At whose behest I long ago
So much unlearnt, so much resign'd —
I come not here to be your foe!
I seek these anchorites, not in ruth,
To curse and to deny your truth; Not as their friend, or child, I speak!
But as, on some far northern strand,
Thinking of his own Gods, a Greek
In pity and mournful awe might stand
Before some fallen Runic stone —
For both were faiths, and both are gone.

„Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.“

—  Matthew Arnold

St. 1
The Forsaken Merman (1849)
Context: Come, dear children, let us away;
Down and away below.
Now my brothers call from the bay;
Now the great winds shoreward blow;
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
Children dear, let us away.
This way, this way!

„For poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion.“

—  Matthew Arnold

Introduction to Ward's English Poets (1880)
Context: For poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion today is its unconscious poetry.

„Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun“

—  Matthew Arnold, book Empedocles on Etna

Act I, sc. ii
Empedocles on Etna (1852)
Context: Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes?

„For both were faiths, and both are gone.“

—  Matthew Arnold

Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse (1855)
Context: Forgive me, masters of the mind!
At whose behest I long ago
So much unlearnt, so much resign'd —
I come not here to be your foe!
I seek these anchorites, not in ruth,
To curse and to deny your truth; Not as their friend, or child, I speak!
But as, on some far northern strand,
Thinking of his own Gods, a Greek
In pity and mournful awe might stand
Before some fallen Runic stone —
For both were faiths, and both are gone.

„It is not in my nature, some of my critics would rather say, not in my power, to dispute on behalf of any opinion, even my own, very obstinately.“

—  Matthew Arnold

Preface to the Second Edition (1869)
Essays in Criticism (1865)
Context: It is not in my nature, some of my critics would rather say, not in my power, to dispute on behalf of any opinion, even my own, very obstinately. To try and approach truth on one side after another, not to strive or cry, nor to persist in pressing forward, on any one side, with violence and self-will, — it is only thus, it seems to me, that mortals may hope to gain any vision of the mysterious Goddess, whom we shall never see except in outline, but only thus even in outline. He who will do nothing but fight impetuously towards her on his own, one, favourite, particular line, is inevitably destined to run his head into the folds of the black robe in which she is wrapped.

„Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.“

—  Matthew Arnold

"To a Friend" (1849), line 9-12
Context: But be his
My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.

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

—  Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

St. 4
Dover Beach (1867)
Context: Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

„Culture looks beyond machinery, culture hates hatred; culture has one great passion, the passion for sweetness and light.“

—  Matthew Arnold, book Culture and Anarchy

Source: Culture and Anarchy (1869), Ch. I, Sweetness and Light
Context: The pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light. He who works for sweetness and light, works to make reason and the will of God prevail. He who works for machinery, he who works for hatred, works only for confusion. Culture looks beyond machinery, culture hates hatred; culture has one great passion, the passion for sweetness and light.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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