What is the meaning behind Matthew Arnold's poem, “The Buried Life"?

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kathik | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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Much has been written about Matthew Arnold's poem, "The Buried Life."  This beautiful piece of work, written so many years ago (in 1852), still resonates with people today because its subject matter is timeless. We bury our real selves; we lose our authenticity in an effort to conform to what it is our families, friends, and society expect of us. We say and do what is expected rather than what we truly want to say and do, for fear that others will think less of us. We may look successful because we have the right job and all the material things that go with it, but deep down there is a gnawing feeling that something is missing. We put up a false self for everyone to see. Others have compared this to theater-we wear a mask in our everyday lives, make up our identity, and perform. When we bury ourselves in this facade we've invented, we suffer. We wonder when we can go back to that real self. For many, this happens around midlife when we begin to feel our mortality.  Knowing there is not a lot of time left, the urge to be authentic intensifies, and the pain of that eventually releases us and makes way for us to reclaim our true selves. This "buried life" transforms us so that we can begin the second part of our time on Earth.

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