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Analysis:             Poet's Biography

Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) was a distinguished Victorian poet and critic, often remembered for his profound and melancholic verse, as well as for his significant contributions to literary criticism. His work embodies the conflicts and concerns of the Victorian era, especially the loss of faith and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world.

Literary Background and Early Influences

Matthew Arnold was born into an intellectual family; his father was Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School. He received a first-class education at Rugby and later at Balliol College, Oxford. His early work was marked by the influence of Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth and Byron, but he soon developed a distinct voice, characterized by a more restrained and reflective style.

Poetic Schools or Movements

Arnold is often associated with Victorian literary culture rather than any specific school or movement. However, his poetry and critical essays are seen as an important bridge between Romanticism and Modernism, as they reflect the disillusionment of the era and anticipate the cynicism and complexity of the 20th century.

Poetic Oeuvre: Phases and Themes

Arnold's poetry is characterized by its classical elegance, moral seriousness, and psychological depth. His early poems, such as "The Strayed Reveller" and "Empedocles on Etna," deal with the theme of the individual’s quest for purpose in an indifferent universe. His narrative poem "Sohrab and Rustum" is notable for its epic scope and tragic intensity.

Perhaps Arnold's most famous poem, "Dover Beach," captures the essence of the crisis of faith of the Victorian age. The poem begins with a serene and beautiful seascape but moves into a meditation on the loss of religious faith and the consequent isolation and despair. The poem ends with the famous lines that present love as the only solace in a world of confusion and strife.

Arnold’s later poetry, including collections like "New Poems," often returns to these contemplative themes, reflecting on human misery and the search for consolation through love, art, and nature.

Influence and Honors

As a critic, Arnold had a significant influence on the development of literary theory. His essays in "Culture and Anarchy" and "The Study of Poetry" helped to establish criticism as a serious and important literary endeavor. He championed the idea that poetry could be a replacement for religion, providing the ethical and spiritual guidance that he felt was lacking in modern society.

Arnold's honors during his lifetime included a professorship in poetry at Oxford, where he was celebrated for his lectures. Posthumously, his influence has persisted, especially in literary studies, where his calls for disinterestedness and high standards remain touchstones.


Matthew Arnold's work is marked by a deep sense of introspection and an enduring concern with the human condition. His poetry, with its classical dignity and its melancholic undertone, offers a poignant reflection of the Victorian crisis of faith and the search for stability and meaning. His critical writing has left a lasting mark on the field of literary studies. Arnold remains a significant figure in the canon of English literature, not only for the quality and depth of his poetry and prose but also for his ability to articulate the profound anxieties of his time.

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