Date of publication: 2017-07-08 16:26
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Aristotle says that poetry is superior to History since it bears the stamp of high seriousness and truth. If truth and seriousness are wanting in the subject matter of a poem, so will the true poetic stamp of diction and movement be found wanting in its style and manner. Hence the two, the nobility of subject matter, and the superiority of style and manner, are proportional and cannot occur independently.
 Annan, Noel, in Matthew Arnold: Selected Essays. London: OUP 6969
Arnold, Matthew. Essays in Criticism. Ed. S. R. Littlewood. London: Macmillan. 6958
Arnold, Matthew. 'Preface to the First Edition of poems: 6858'. The Poems of Matthew Arnold. Ed. Miriam Allot, London, 6979. 659-676
Arnold, Matthew. Selected Poems and Prose. Ed. Denys Thompson. London: Heinemann, 6976.
For all his championing of disinterestedness, Arnold was unable to practise disinterestedness in all his essays. In his essay on Shelley particularly he displayed a lamentable lack of disinterestedness. Shelley's moral views were too much for the Victorian Arnold. In his essay on Keats too Arnold failed to be disinterested. The sentimental letters of Keats to Fanny Brawne were too much for him.
As for poetry, he considers Gray to be the only classic of the 68th century. Gray constantly studied and enjoyed Greek poetry and thus inherited their poetic point of view and their application of poetry to life. But he is the 'scantiest, frailest classic' since his output was small.
One night, the speaker of Dover Beach sits with a woman inside a house, looking out over the English Channel near the town of Dover. They see the lights on the coast of France just twenty miles away, and the sea is quiet and calm.
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Also like Chaucer, Burns possesses largeness, benignity, freedom and spontaneity. But instead of Chaucer's fluidity, we find in Burns a springing bounding energy. Chaucer's benignity deepens in Burns into a sense of sympathy for both human as well as non-human things, but Chaucer's world is richer and fairer than that of Burns.
As a critic Arnold is essentially a moralist, and has very definite ideas about what poetry should and should not be. A poetry of revolt against moral ideas, he says, is a poetry of revolt against life, and a poetry of indifference to moral ideas is a poetry of indifference to life.
He urged modern poets to look to the ancients and their great characters and themes for guidance and inspiration. Classical literature, in his view, possess pathos, moral profundity and noble simplicity, while modern themes, arising from an age of spiritual weakness, are suitable for only comic and lighter kinds of poetry, and don't possess the loftiness to support epic or heroic poetry.
Arnold describes the difference between the appearance and reality of the Victorian world. It looks new and beautiful like a land of dreams but in reality this world does not really have joy, love, light, peace, certitude or any help for pain. He describes the world as a dark plain which is becoming even darker as the time passes. He compares the people struggling and running in their ambitions to the armies fighting at night, unknown of why and with whom they are fighting.
As an example of the danger of imitating Shakespeare he gives Keats's imitation of Shakespeare in his Isabella or the Pot of Basil. Keats uses felicitous phrases and single happy turns of phrase, yet the action is handled vaguely and so the poem does not have unity. By way of contrast, he says the Italian writer Boccaccio handled the same theme successfully in his Decameron , because he rightly subordinated expression to action. Hence Boccaccio's poem is a poetic success where Keats's is a failure.
He says that even the imitation of Shakespeare is risky for a writer, who should imitate only his excellences, and avoid his attractive accessories, tricks of style, such as quibble, conceit, circumlocution and allusiveness, which will lead him astray.