Matthew Arnold's West London: Poem Analysis

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Matthew Arnold critical commentary

West London raises multiple literary observations. These include the type of language used, the structure of the poem and the use of poetic techniques, such as imagery.
The first striking feature is the rhyming structure that follows the criteria of an Italian sonnet, with a slight variant in the last tercet. This can be seen as Arnold attempting to tweak the model to emphasise the final three lines. This ending can be interpreted as the heightened and emotionally charged culmination of feelings of the central characters. The Italian sonnet commonly produces a statement followed by a counter statement, by means of an octave, which consists of two quatrains, followed by a setstet which is displayed by two tercets. This poem conforms as the first two quatrains provide negatively charged language, such as “ill,” (“West London” 2) and, “their feet were bare.” (West London” 4) The mood of the poem shifts dramatically after the turn and the language changes, suggesting that Arnold is deliberately showing the reader opposite attitudes. This is evident by, “this spirit towers,” (“West London” 9) and “she will not ask of aliens, but of friends.” (“West London” 10) The use of the turn can be seen as an attempt to show the readers the complexity of the situation on the streets of London, during this era of industrialisation. This is further explained by the two quatrains, which display a common view of the homeless, while the sestet provides a romantic and humble image of gratitude, evidenced by how the girl, “begg'd and came back satisfied,” (“West London” 7) from the passing labour workers. The poem finishes with the image of the unfortunate girl that, “points us to a better time than ours,” (“West London” 14) which can indicate the level of ignorance of passers by. It also suggests a sense of untold experiences, due to social neglect.

Various prominent images run throughout the poem. One example can be seen on lines six and...
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