Nature And Her Description That You Can Learn From Mathew Arnold’s Poetry : How far Removed from William Wordsworth?


The nineteenth century poetry is rich in Nature and her description. As regards to the poetry of Arnold, who can think of Arnold’s poetry as a whole with the feeling that nature is always behind it as a living background. Whether it be the story of wind and rain shaking Tintagel, or the scent laden water meadows along the Thames, or the pine forests on the flanks of Etna, or an English Garden in June Oxus, its mists and fens and “the hushed Chorasmian waste”.

Arnold has worshiped nature with the devotion of William Wordsworth. But he is not the High Priest of nature for he treats her as a refuge from the fever and fret and the weariness and waste of life. He also turns to nature to learn the moral lesson it teaches. He recommends the supreme lesson of peaceful toil, of incessant labour, of work as duty which nature teaches us. But he does not like friendship with nature. Man may learn from nature, love and admire and enjoy her, he must still remember that ‘Nature and Man can never be fast friends,’ and that ‘man must begin where Nature ends’. Though he has warned us not to expect too much from nature, be regarded her as a source of solace and soothing, of comfort, and consolation.

Arnold’s poetry of Nature is marked with exactness of observation and vividness of description. He had a keen eye for the details of Nature, and takes care to describe them as vividly as possible. Arnold’s pictures of nature have the brightness and the stillness necessary for a perfect reflection. They also possess the lustre and the polish of craftsmanship.

Another quality of his nature poetry is his partiality for subdued subjects, for quiet and subdued moods, for the silences of Nature rather than for her sounds. Rugby Chapel begins into the autumn evening coldly, sadly descending:
Coldly, sadly descends
The autumn-evening. The field
Strewn with its dank yellow drifts
Of wither'd leaves, and the elms,
Fade into dimness apace,
Silent;—hardly a shout
From a few boys late at their play!
The lights come out in the street,
In the school-room windows;—but cold,
Solemn, unlighted, austere,
Through the gathering darkness, arise
The chapel-walls, in whose bound
Thou, my father! art laid.
 The thought of the turbid ebb and flow of human misery comes to his mind when he is standing on the Dover Beach at night:
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Arnold loves and writes tenderly of birds and flowers. He has a whole poem on Philomela. The other birds that he mentions are the swallow, the rock, the nightingale, the blackbird and the cuckoo. He shows a botanist’s sense for flowers and views them keen eye. The blue convolvulus, the scented poppy, the frail-leafed white the dark-blue bell, the white roses and lilies, the musk carnation, the chestnut and the snapdragon, the cowslip and the daffodil, the May-flower and the primrose - they and others brighten and perfume the poetry of Arnold.

Rivers have been used both significantly and symbolically by Arnold— The Thames, the Nile, the Rhone, The Aar, the Oxus, the Murghab, the Helmond are present in his poetry besides lakes and seas. They beautify and brighten the background, but at times he invests them with symbolic significance.

Wordsworth had influenced him very much. Arnold echoes the sentiments of Wordsworth in his poetry. He has the same devotion for Nature as Wordsworth himself. But there is an essential difference between the viewpoints of the two poets. Wordsworth’s approach to nature is essentially ethical; Arnold’s approach is scientific; for him Nature is Matter in motion taking a plentiful variety of forms, obeying certain fixed laws. Secondly, Wordsworth touches her mild and beneficent aspects; Arnold deals with both the lovely and the terrible aspects of Nature. Again, Wordsworth speaks of the holy plan and healing power of Nature; Arnold believes in nature’s capacity to assuage the discontent and unrest of human beings, but he finds no key human mystery there; he cannot see nature as the fountain-head of hope, joy and light. As Hugh Walker has pointed out, “Arnold has Wordsworth’s calm, but neither his cheerfulness, nor his detachment.  Wordsworth lives and thinks with the hills for his sole companions, but Arnold never rests in Nature alone. In place of the steady optimism of Wordsworth we have in Arnold the sense that a destiny so rarely yielding great results as life of man,
Though bearable seems hardly worth
This poop of worlds, this pain of birth”.


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