Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327
As a piece of poetry, "The Buried Life" is written in first person with a small subset of characters. It is a short poem, not even quite a story as much as it is an expression of longing, but there are a few characters that are present in the lines.
The Narrator: The first character is the narrator himself, who is supposed to be Matthew Arnold, though technically it is never explicitly stated. The narrator is speaking about his yearning for connection, the longing to be united with someone so deeply that he can understand their private soul, what he calls "The Buried Life." He enjoys the company of his lover and speaks at length about the joy they share and the laughter they enjoy together, but he desires much more, a deeper connection that he fears may be impossible with another human being.
The narrator's lover: Second, the narrator's lover is a character in the poem. He speaks lovingly of this person, describing in depth their joys and life together. He wishes to understand his beloved's life in greater detail—perusing their soul and probing the depth of their desires, heart, and motivations to better understand them. He reasons in the poem that only when a lover comes close enough to open themselves up to you and let you look deep into their eyes can you begin to see their private life and understand them as well as you know yourself.
Society: Finally, the collective masses of society are mentioned briefly in the poem. Arnold yearns to understand someone, anyone, and laments the idea of passing masses on the streets and not knowing their desires and inner lives. It haunts him to not find connection, and walking through the city is a reminder of the separation from these other people that he cannot know. He juxtaposes this at the end with his lover and how he is able to be united with them and understand them.
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