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The Poetry of Matthew Arnold

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    1. The Poetry of Matthew Arnold Prepared for English 2323 By Dr. Brenda Cornell

    2. Biographical Information Dates (1822-1888) Remembered as both a literary critic and poet Studied at the Rugby School (his father was headmaster), and later Balliol College, Oxford University (degree in 1844) Returned to Rugby as a teacher of classics Married in 1851; worked as a government school inspector (grueling job, but offered travel throughout England and the Continent)

    3. Biography (continued) School inspector’s job (for 35 years) developed an interest in education, which influenced his critical works and his poetry Two volumes of poetry (Empedocles on Etna, 1852, and Poems, 1853) established his reputation as a poet. In 1857 he was offered the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford, which he held until 1857. Arnold was the first professor to lecture in English at Oxford, rather than in Latin. During this time Arnold wrote the bulk of his most famous critical works, which reflect the main values of the Victorian era.

    4. Nature and Themes of his poetry Meditative and rhetorical (not expecting a response) Often wrestles with problems of psychological isolation: reverses Donne’s idea that “No man is an island,” suggesting instead that we mortals are all isolated to some extent. Ex: “To Marguerite—Continued”

    5. Nature and Themes (continued) Problem of isolation linked with the dwindling faith (questioning) of the Victorian era, such as “Dover Beach.” Arnold struggled with his own religious doubts but wanted to establish the “essential truth” of Christianity.

    6. Arnold’s Essays Most influential were those concerning literary topics. In “The Function of Criticism” and “The Study of Poetry” he called for a “new epic poetry,” a poetry that would address the moral needs of his readers, to “animate and ennoble them.” He favored a renewed religious faith and a return to classical theories of poetry. Set the tone and approach of modern criticism as an art form; always respectful, gentlemanly, and subtle.

    7. Later Life Made two lecture tours of the United States in 1883 and 1886 Died in Liverpool in 1888.