Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 376
Matthew Arnold's "The Buried Life" is about the poet's perceived inability on the part of all humans to communicate effectively with one another. The poet is extremely saddened at the condition that, though humans are so similar, they will never communicate with one another transparently. The poem comprises seven stanzas of varying line numbers. In the first stanza, the poet proposes that he and his lover, rather than trying to speak, should just hold hands and look into one another's eyes.
In the second stanza, the speaker calls to mind individuals who are reluctant to share their thoughts for fear of being shamed or scolded by their peers. On this score, the speaker asserts that all humans' thoughts are the same. In the third and fourth stanzas, the poet expresses sincere longing for the freedom of expression between himself and his lover, and he uses a metaphor of lips and hearts being chained. He also suggests that human thought takes the form of a constantly flowing river with no direction.
The fifth (and longest) stanza contemplates the nature of human life. People only occasionally consider the question of the origin of human thoughts and examine their own in pursuit of a profound discovery; however, this is never successful. People spend the majority of their lives in a melancholy state for not having their true feelings expressed. Only once in a while do two people meaningfully connect, and it is not through spoken words, but by means of an unspoken bond of body language. In the final stanza, the poet suggests that, occasionally, man can rest from his ceaseless thoughts. Only during these periods of rest can he perceive the origin and destination of human thought.
Published in the Victorian era, Arnold's poem is more or less contemporary with Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, in which he exhibits the same sentiment: "A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other" (book 1, chapter 3). Like Dickens, Arnold is preoccupied with the interior of the human mind. Arnold's poem uses the metaphors of chains and a flowing river without direction to illustrate the paradox that human emotion can be so powerful, yet so difficult to express.