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Thursday, 18 October 2018

What, according to Matthew Arnold, are the characteristics of best poetry where man will stay in future?

Matthew Arnold is an intellectual giant of the Victorian Period. His views about poetry are elaborately stated in his "The Study of Poetry". He has a high conception of poetry. He points out the characteristics of best poetry where man will stay in future. He is confident that poetry has immense future. He expresses his views on the nature, function and character of poetry to a great extent. He gives to poetry a very high position. Arnold sets high standards for poetry. According to him, it attains the place of religion. It is an application of ideas to life. The best kind of poetry is a criticism of life.
characteristics of best poetry

Arnold realises that poetry has a great future. Poetry is worthy of its high destinies. Human  will find spiritual power and satisfaction in poetry. People will depend on it. Every field of human thought and action has been influenced by poetry. Social, cultural and religious thought and action are also influenced by it. This is clear by the phrase, " worthy of its high destinies ". In good poetry, human beings would be able to find a sure resting place for their spirit. In the realm of poetry, most of the changes were taking place. Poetry will also take the place of religious doctrines and creeds. It is based on ideas which are fundamental to humanity. It considers the world outside imagination a world of illusion. For poetry, the idea is everything. Poetry is not only the idea or the fact but also both. For this reason, poetry has a great future. Its destiny is high.

Poetry is an interpretation of life. It is criticism of life. It has the power to console, sustain and form us. At the same time, it delights us too. Poetry plays an eminent role in life. It is more important than religion. In this respect, Arnold says------
       
" In poetry, as a criticism of life under the conditions fixed for such a criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. "

Therefore, poetry should be a real classic in nature. Poetry of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton and the like is a serious criticism of life. So it is good poetry. Excellence of poetry lies both in its matter or substance and in its manner of style. But matter and style must have the accent of high beauty, worth and power. If the matter of a poet has truth and high seriousness, the manner and diction would also acquire the accent of superiority. The two are vitally connected together. Arnold was very much dissatisfied with the kind of poetry written in his own time. He reacted against it. He felt that the poets paid more attention to the form and expression of the poem than to its subject. They tried to attract readers by the purple patches in the poem. They never paid attention to the total impressions of the work. Arnold thinks that poetic subject is the first consideration with a great Poet. Poetic expression comes only afterwards. According to him, human actions are the best subject matter of poetry. The ancient poets were better than the moderns. They regarded the whole but the moderns regard the parts. With them, the action predominated over the expression of it. But with the moderns, the expression predominates over the action. Like Wordsworth, Arnold believes that poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge. It is the impassioned expression of what is in the countenance of all science. Arnold also thinks that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas of life. Truth and seriousness of substance and matter, Felicity and perfection of diction and manner are exhibited in the best poets. Poetry interprets by expressing with magical Felicity the physiognomy and movement of the outer would. It interprets the ideas and laws of the inward world of man's moral and spiritual nature. In other words, poetry is interpretative by having natural music in it and by having moral profundity.

According to Arnold, there is no difference between art and morality. He says that poetry of revolt against moral idea is poetry of revolt against fife. Poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is poetry of indifference towards life. Arnold pleads for treating in poetry moral ideas. But this does not mean that he talks to compose moral and didactic poems. He suggests the poems which give answer to the question, "how to live well?"

Arnold's views on poetry have aroused considerable controversy among the critics. Prof. Saintsbury thinks that the objects of poetry are not merely actions but thoughts and feelings also. So Arnold unnecessarily limits the scope of poetry. Than Saintsbury thinks that Arnold's definition of poetry is too wide. All literature is the application of ideas to life. So "poetry is an application of ideas to life" is simply a vain repetition. Arnold believes that the ideas and sentiments to have any permanent value must be based on actual life. Thoughts and feelings excluded from the action might be the creed of a few poets. But they have no charm for him.

Arnold was actually against romantic poetry. During the Victorian Period, he saw that materialism had dominated the life of the people. Religious values were crushed due to the development of science. Arnold knew the malady of his age very well and protested vigorously against it. He wanted to renew the permanent ethical values of life. He wished to reconstruct art on its true basis. He also believed that art would help men in achieving ethical values. Therefore, he has insisted on the union of the best subjects and the highest expression in poetry. Only poetry of this sort can achieve its ultimate end.

In respect of our analysis above, we can say that Arnold's theory of poetry expressed in "The Study of poetry" may be questionable in details and on minor points. It is true that his views on poetry are quite mature. They are in harmony with modern ideas. Arnold believes in the high destiny of poetry. So he does not hesitate to express his exalted view of poetry. He has analysed the nature and function of excellent poetry highlighting its striking features.

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