Matthew Arnold is best-remembered for his poem, ‘Dover Beach‘. It, along with several others, solidified Arnold’s place in the history of 19th-century poetry. But, Arnold was not just a poet. He also wrote prose and published two collections of his essays.
Explore Matthew Arnold
- Matthew Arnold was born in December of 1822 in Laleham, Middlesex, England.
- His first book of poetry was “The Strayed Reveller”.
- He worked as one of her Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools.
- In 1852, he published his second collection, “Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems”.
- Matthew Arnold died in Liverpool in April of 1888.
- In 1851, Arnold married Frances Lucy.
- He was named as a Professor of Poetry at Oxford University and lectured English.
- Arnold won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford University.
- He wrote multiple essay collections.
- Arnold went to the United States on two lecturing tours from 1883 to 1886.
- ‘Growing Old’ a piece full of questions, answers, and descriptions of what old age is actually like. The speaker asks an initial question in regards to what it’s like to grow old and then expands upon it in the following stanzas. There is a loss of physical beauty and strength as well as the mourning of expectations and goals one had when they were young. The poem concludes by describing how at the end of life one will hate their body.
- ‘Philomena’ is a four-stanza poem that was inspired by the Greek myth of Philomena. The poem follows a narrator who finds a nightingale in the woods and hears its song as one of mourning. The speaker talks directly to the bird, asking if it is still pained by the suffering it lived as a human woman, and then calls upon the Roman Christian Saint Eugenia to help remove some portion of Philomena/the nightingale’s agony.
- ‘Dover Beach’ was published in 1867 in the volume entitled New Poems. The poem is a dramatic monologue in which the speaker laments the loss of true Christian faith in England during the mid-1800s. He saw the way that science was becoming more and more important and felt the past slipping away. Throughout this poem the speaker/Arnold crafts an image of the sea receding and returning to land with the faith of the world as it changes throughout time. The poem concludes pessimistically as the speaker expresses the fact that the beauty and happiness one may believe they are experiencing is not in fact real.
- ‘Buried Life’ is another monologue, one in which the speaker tries to analyze his complex feelings. He remembers being struck by an uncontrollable sadness brought on by his lover. The next sections move through the way that “man” lives and how fate determined his inability to understand his own life. The speaker declares towards the end of the poem that everyone can and should look into their “buried life”. It is a place of peace.
- ‘Lines Written in Kensington Gardens’ describes a speaker’s experience within the confines of Kensington Gardens in London, England. The poem is eleven stanzas long and presents the theme of nature, elevating it over city life. The speaker emphasizes his appreciation for the natural world while marveling over the history of the gardens. He wishes he could take the calm he feels in the garden and bring it back to his everyday life. He prays to God to allow him to continue to feel the “calm soul” of living things when he returns to the city.
Matthew Arnold was born in December of 1822 in Laleham, Middlesex, England. As a boy, Arnold attended Rugby School where his father, Thomas Arnold was a respected headmaster. He was quickly recognized as a talented student. During his time there he won awards for his essay writing and Latin and English poetry. One of his award-winning poems, ‘Alaric at Rome’ was printed at Rugby.
Arnold won a scholarship, and attended Balliol College, Oxford University, starting in 1841. Arnold’s father died a year later in 1842. The following year Arnold’s poem, ‘Cromwell’ won the 1843 Newdigate prize, which is awarded to students at Oxford for the Best Composition in English verse by an undergraduate.
After Arnold graduated from Oxford he went on to publish his first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveller. A year later he published a number of memorial pieces about William Wordsworth. In 1851 Arnold was married to Frances Lucy, daughter of a Justice of the Queen’s Bench. He was unable to support a family on his current wages and was appointed as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools. This was a position he would hold for a number of years, but not one he enjoyed. It did allow him to travel throughout England and continental Europe.
In 1852, he published his second collection, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems. The next collection was released in 1853 and was titled Poems: A New Edition. These works established Arnold’s reputation. In 1857, he was named a Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. He was the first instructor in this position to deliver his lecture in English rather than Latin and would hold this position for the rest of his life.
Later Life and Death
It was in the mid-60s that he published his collections of essays, Essays in Criticism: First Series. It appeared in 1865 and was followed many years later by Essays in Criticism: Second Series, after Arnold’s death in 1888. These works reflected the core beliefs of the Victorian era. In his later life, Arnold went to the United States on two lecturing tours from 1883 to 1886. Matthew Arnold died in Liverpool in April of 1888.