Describe Arnold's idea that ''poetry is the criticism of life.''

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arnold, who himself had suffered a loss of religious faith, believed that religion could no longer sustain people. He wrote the following in "The Study of Poetry" in 1880:

"There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve."

Therefore, he believed that traditional religion could not provide spiritual guidance or moral instructions for his time. In “The Study of Poetry,” he wrote that poetry had become the new faith of his era and the means by which people could receive spiritual sustenance. By stating that "poetry is the criticism of life," Arnold meant that poetry could move into the void created by people's loss of religious faith. 

According to Arnold, great poetry could provide "the superior character of truth and seriousness." This type of great poetry, such as that by Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton, could offer people the type of spiritual sustenance that they once received from religion. Great poetry could also provide a source of virtue by commenting on the human condition and by showing people the nature of human existence. In doing so, poetry could provide a criticism of forces that impede the development of human spirituality. Finally, great poetry could also provide sheer delight. As Arnold writes, "the best poetry will be found to have a power of forming, sustaining, and delighting us, as nothing else can." This sense of delight was also a source of spiritual uplift in an age in which religion no longer provided this type of uplift. 

nusratfarah | Student

It was Matthew Arnold, the great Victorian poet, who stated that, poetry would replace religion, when faith would be abolished from the world.

Through poetry, he says, life can be criticised, and these poems must be high poetry. The poems should be elevated, must possess a grandeur in style and content. Morality should prevail there so that they can teach humans almost like religion. Any morally depraved things are disallowed in poetry according to Arnold. On the basis of high poetry, life can be interpreted, and criticised.

In many of his famous poems like "Dover Beach", "The Scholar Gipsy", "Thyrsis" and "Morality", he has directly transformed his expressions into words, and portrayed the picture of the contemporary human world. He has brilliantly depicted the lives of human and becomes critical about them in his poems. For example, "Dover Beach", at a time mourns for the lost traditions and faith, and criticises modern human life comparing them with soldiers fighting each other in deep darkness without any purpose or reason.

Thus, Arnold has successfully criticised life via poetry, and opines that, "poetry is criciticism of life" which can be a sort of substitute of religion.

ravindar | Student

The best poet humarously explains his centraal ideas