To Marguerite—Continued

by Matthew Arnold

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To Marguerite Analysis

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

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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.







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