To Marguerite Analysis

How might one analyze "To Marguerite," by Matthew Arnold, focusing especially on title, theme, and tone?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Matthew Arnold’s poem “To Marguerite” is typical of much of Arnold’s poetry in its emphasis on isolation, alienation, longing for bonds with others, but resignation to the fact that such bonds, even if they once existed, are unlikely ever to exist again. The tone of the poem, like the tones found in many of Arnold’s poems, is melancholy and even somewhat depressing. The title of the poem is relevant to the theme of isolation: by addressing the poem to a specific, named person, the poet seeks to counteract, at least to a limited extent, the isolation that the poem laments.

In the course of developing these themes and conveying this tone, the poem employs a number of standard poetic techniques, including (for example)

  • Metaphor, as in line 1 (“the sea of life”).
  • Assonance, as in line 1 (“life enisled”).
  • Deliberately archaic diction, as in line 1 (“enisled”).
  • Alliteration, as in line 3 (“watery wild”).
  • Double alliteration, as in line 4:

We mortal millions live alone.

  • Pathetic fallacy (attributing human emotions to nature), as in line 5 (“The islands feel”).
  • Paradox, as in line 6 (“endless bounds”).
  • Regular iambic meter (in which odd syllables are unaccented and even syllable are accented), as in lines 7-8:

But when the moon their hollow lights,

And they are swept by balms of spring . . . .

  • Imagery of nature, as in the second stanza especially.
  • Anaphora (repetition of the same word or words at the beginnings of lines), as in line 8-9.
  • Enjambment (or lack of punctuation at the end of a line), as in line 13.
  • Personification, as in the way the islands are imagined to speak in stanza three.
  • Emphatic departure from regular iambic meter, as in the first word of line 16.
  • Rhetorical questions, as in the first three lines of stanza four.
  • Listing or cataloging, as in the emphatic list of adjectives in the last line of the poem.







sapphyrblud | Student

To Marguerite is a poem by Matthew Arnold that talks about humanity and the isolation of its members. Arnold mostly uses metaphors, comparisons and imagery to convey the theme of isolation to readers.

In the first stanza, he uses the sea as a metaphor for life in the phrase " in the sea of life enisled". this conveys the idea that we humans are separated from each other, and we stand as islands in the sea of life. this is further elaborated in the next line, which talks about how we cannot reach for each other because "echoing straits" lie between us. the use of the word "dotting" makes it seem as if we are but tiny specks in the sea of life. this may be because we stand alone, and it may be that if all these specks stood as one, they would form a more significant figure. it can be said that the most effective line concerning our isolation is the fourth, "we mortal millions live alone". there is a stark contrast between the words "millions" and " alone", which coupled with the italicization of the word alone make the statement very effective. 

In the second stanza, it is as though all of a sudden, these individual specks are reaching for each other. we are told," they are swept by balms of spring" and that " lovely notes" pour "from shore to shore" of these islands. this conveys some idea of a healing effect sweeping across the islands, linking them together. this leads to " a longing like despair" in the depths of the islands, " their farthest caverns". now, they yearn to be together, to live as one because they feel they were once "part of a single continent". but this "longing's fire" is "as soon as kindled, cooled", and the islands remain apart. no matter how much they long for each other, they can never achieve unity because of " a God their severance ruled". arnold communicates to readers that though occasionally, the individual islands reach for each other, they are blocked from uniting, cursed to be alone forever; their "deep desire" is for naught because the sea would always separate them.

Arnold adapts a tone of perhaps hopelessness throughout the poem. its as if the speaker knows that its impossible for the islands to merge as one continent. this tone changes in the second stanza with the word "but", and takes one of faith for restoration. he believes that we may just become one, and it runs on to the next stanza, where it seems as though just maybe, we islands might meet again. this is would not be our first meeting, as implied by the word "again". but this sudden hope is quickly doused, and the writer seems to take a vexed tone, as despite our efforts, we are doomed to stay alone.