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Sunday, 21 October 2018

Consider Arnold's idea of 'truth and high seriousness' as a proper standard for evaluation of poetry?

"The Study of Poetry" is a milestone in the history of English literary criticism. In this critical essay, Matthew Arnold gives to poetry a very high position. He is confident of the high of poetry. According to him, poetry attains the place of religion. It is able to make room in the heart of man. It is an application of ideas to human life. The best kind of poetry is a criticism of life. It is an interpretation of life. It has the power to console, sustain and form us. At the same time, it delights us too. Thus Arnold sets high standards for poetry. He proclaims that truth and high seriousness are two essential qualities of excellent poetry. He tries to represent them as a proper standard for evaluation of poetry.

Poetic truth and poetic beauty mean matter and manner respectively. They are later on called high seriousness. In "The Study of Poetry", Arnold expresses his idea of truth and high seriousness as a proper standard for evaluation of poetry. For judging poetry, the significance of his twin requirements of truth and high seriousness is really undeniable. He opines that the best poetry is characterised by truth and high seriousness.
truth and high seriousness

Arnold says that the substance and matter of the best poetry acquire their special character through an eminent degree truth and seriousness. Thus he has imposed the importance of truth and seriousness in poetry to a great extent. He says in this respect-----
     
 ".......the substance and matter of the best poetry acquire their special character from possessing in an eminent degree truth and seriousness."

Considering the substances and matter of poetry, Arnold is directed by Aristotle's observation. Aristotle regards that the superiority of poetry over history consists in its higher truth and higher seriousness. The greatest poetry has this truth and seriousness to the utmost. The best poetry is also characterised by a superiority of diction and style. Matter and manner are closely connected with it. The superiority of truth and seriousness is inseparable from the superiority of diction and style. Thus if a poet wants to be regarded as a classic, he should fulfil these conditions. According to Arnold, the best poetry is born of sincerity of feelings and emotion. It is characterised by high seriousness, truth of representation and excellence of diction. By high seriousness, the critic means the grand style which is in poetry where a serious subject is treated in a simple and intense manner.

Arnold has a very high opinion of Chaucer. It is Chaucer who establishes romantic poetry in England. Chaucer is the father of the splendid English poetry. His poetry has largeness,  freedom and kindness. Arnold thus showers high praise on Chaucer. But surprisingly he also remark that Chaucer is not a classic. He argues that this immortal poet lacks high seriousness. Chaucer does not have high seriousness which Homer, Shakespeare, Milton and many others had.

Dryden and Pope have written in verse. They may be masters of the art of versification. Their application of ideas to life may be powerful. But it is not poetical. Arnold claims that their criticism of life has no high seriousness. He very boldly says that they are not classics of English poetry. They are classic of English prose.

Arnold exposes the application to ideas of life in the poetry of Robert Burns. Truth of matter and style is found in his poetry. But according to Arnold, Burns is not a classic. Like Chaucer, Burns lacks seriousness in his poetry. Arnold admits that like Chaucer, the view of life of Burns is large, free and shwred. But we do not find the accent of high seriousness in Burns.

However, Arnold is a true disciple of Aristotle who considers truth and high seriousness as two essential qualities of excellent poetry. The superior character of truth and seriousness in the matter and substance of the best poetry is inseparable from the superiority of diction and movement marking its style and manner. If the substance and subject-matter of poetry contain the quality high seriousness, grand style will automatically follow. At last, we may say that Arnold's twin requirements of truth and high seriousness may be taken as the proper standards for judging poetry.

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