Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poets: Analysis of EDWIN ARNOLD

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Analysis:             Poet's Biography

Edwin Arnold (1832–1904) was an English poet and journalist, most renowned for his work "The Light of Asia," an epic poem that narrates the life and teachings of the Buddha. Arnold's interest in Asian cultures and religions marked his work and made a significant contribution to the popularization of Eastern philosophy in the West during the 19th century.

Literary Background and Early Influences

Arnold was born into a Sussex family with a strong literary background. He was educated at King's School, Rochester, and later at King's College, London, before attending University College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry. His initial work was influenced by the romantic poetry of the time and by the classical education he received, which would play a role in his later writings.

Poetic Schools or Movements

While Arnold was not associated with any particular poetic school or movement, his work is often linked to Victorian Orientalism. This was a period when there was a fascination with Asian cultures in Britain, and writers sought to interpret and convey the philosophies and aesthetics of the East to the Western audience.

Poetic Oeuvre: Phases and Themes

Edwin Arnold's poetry displays a variety of themes, ranging from traditional romantic subjects to the didactic and philosophical. After a stint in India working as a principal of a college, his poetry took on a decidedly Eastern flavor. He saw himself as a kind of cultural ambassador, using his poetry to bridge the gap between East and West.

"The Light of Asia," published in 1879, is a work written in blank verse, and it made a significant impact by its sympathetic treatment of Buddhist philosophy and its narrative of the Buddha's life. This work saw several editions and was translated into multiple languages, underscoring its global influence.

Arnold also wrote "The Song Celestial," a poetic version of the Bhagavad Gita, and "The Secret of Death," based on the Katha Upanishad. Through these works, he attempted to make the rich spiritual literature of India accessible to the English-speaking world.

Influence and Honors

Arnold’s works, particularly "The Light of Asia," influenced the Western perception of Buddhism and contributed to its emerging popularity among European intellectual circles. His poetic renderings of Eastern spiritual texts also predate the 20th-century interest in Eastern religions among the Western public.

In terms of honors, Arnold's contributions were recognized with a knighthood in 1888. His impact was not just literary; he influenced the broader cultural dialogue between the East and West during the height of the British Empire.


Edwin Arnold occupies a unique place in 19th-century English literature, straddling the divide between the role of a poet and that of an interpreter of Eastern thought. His work is emblematic of a period when the West was opening up to the philosophies of the East, and he played a significant role in this cultural exchange. Arnold’s poetry, with its lyrical quality and cross-cultural engagement, offered a window into the spiritual and philosophical landscapes of Asia to his Western readership. His oeuvre remains a notable example of Victorian Orientalism and continues to be of interest not only for its literary merits but also for its historical significance in the context of intercultural communication.

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