The Study of Poetry - Mathew Arnold

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Mathew Arnold – The Study of Poetry

Matthew Arnold, Victorian poet and critic, often regarded as the father of modern literary criticism, was one of the foremost poets and critics of the 19th century. As a critic Arnold is essentially a moralist, and has very definite ideas about what poetry should and should not be. Arnold is frequently acknowledged as being one of the first poets to display a truly Modern perspective in his work. In “The Study of Poetry”, which is one of his best known essays, he is fundamentally concerned with poetry’s “high destiny”. His essay concerns itself with articulating a “high standard” and “strict judgement” in order to avoid the fallacy of valuing certain poems and poets too highly and lays out a method or discerning only the best and therefore “classic” poets. Arnold’s classic poets include Milton, Shakespeare, Dante and Homer; and the passages he presents from each are intended to show how their poetry is timeless and moving. According to Arnold, Homer is the best model of a simple grand style, while Milton is the best model of severe grand style. Dante, however, is an example of both. An example of an indispensable poet who falls short of Arnold’s “classic” designation is Geoffrey Chaucer, who, in Arnold’s view, in spite of his virtues such as benignity, largeness, spontaneity and his excellent style and manner, ultimately lacks the “high seriousness” of classic poets. Burns too lacks sufficient seriousness, because he was hypocritical in that while he adopted a moral stance in some of his poems, in his private life he flouted morality. At the root of Arnold’s arguments is his desire to illuminate and preserve the poets he believes to be the touchstones of literature, and to ask questions about the moral value of poetry that does not champion truth, beauty, valor and clarity. Arnold’s belief that poetry should both, uplift and console, drives the essay’s logic and its conclusions.

Importance of poetry: Arnold had a very...
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