In the Victorian era, people tended to keep their true thoughts and feelings to themselves more than today, when we are encouraged to express ourselves because we have learned that too much repression is unhealthy. In his poem, Arnold expresses the Victorian spirit of burying one's inner feelings under a calm, controlled facade, knowing he shares a common spirit with all people but fearing he is not able to connect with people on that level. His speaker states:
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress'd.
The speaker worries that even he and his beloved will not be able to connect because of burying too many of their thoughts and feelings:
Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
Arnold points to the way people in the normal discourse of life are afraid to reveal themselves and be vulnerable. They are concerned that people either will not care or will judge them. His speaker states that people repress themselves from worry that they will be with:
Blank indifference, or with blame reproved
Judgmental mentalities were an aspect of Victorian life that people began to rebel against in the twentieth century, but in 1852, when Arnold wrote this poem, that spirit of stiff-upper lip repression was still strong.
Poetry was often an important outlet for individuals in this era before psychoanalysis. Arnold's poem was likely therapeutic because it named and expressed a desire for deeper communion and more authentic relationship that many people wanted but didn't know how to obtain. In reading the poem, they would feel less alone.
The poem also, however, articulates a Victorian note of optimism, expressing how good it feels when this kind of connection is achieved:
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.