Study Guide

Isolation. To Marguerite

by Matthew Arnold

Isolation. To Marguerite Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

On the most obvious level, “Isolation. To Marguerite” seems self-explanatory: It is an evocation of human isolation that is intensified by the lover’s yearning to unite with his beloved. Although he bravely begins by envisioning a world that is made out of his love for Marguerite, and out of her love for him, the element of doubt is already raised by his use of the word “fear.” The world is not one in which love is readily reciprocated. On the contrary, it is a world in which human feelings are in flux and where human hearts are separate and can only yearn for fusion. The self is alone, the lover announces in the middle of the poem. Indeed, solitude is proclaimed as though it were a judgment on human behavior: “Thou has been, shalt be, art, alone.” The finality of the phrasing is a crushing blow barely mitigated by the final stanzas, which acknowledge that not all people have found happiness and apparent communion with their lovers.

The poet expresses a bleak message that is tempered by his recognition that human beings will continue to search for love and to express their faith in love. It is a faith he seems to have lost by acquiring knowledge. What he knows of the world and its history prevents him from sharing the faith of others and overcoming his sense of isolation. He also suggests, however, that this faith he cannot share blinds others to the true nature of the world, which is one that includes an awareness of how utterly alone the...

(The entire section is 424 words.)