The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Buried Life” is a ninety-eight-line poem divided into seven stanzas of varying length with an irregular rhyme scheme. A monologue in which a lover addresses his beloved, the poem yearns for the possibility of truthful communication with the self and with others.

The first line evokes the banter of a loving couple, but it is immediately checked by the deeply sad feelings of the speaker. Troubled by a sense of inner restlessness, he longs for complete intimacy and hopes to find it in his beloved’s clear eyes, the window to her “inmost soul.”

As the second stanza suggests, not even lovers can sustain an absolutely open relationship or break through the inhibitions and the masks that people assume in order to hide what they really feel. Yet the speaker senses the possibility of greater truth, since all human beings share basically the same feelings and ought to be able to share their most profound thoughts.

In a burst of emotion, expressed in two intense lines, the speaker wonders whether the same forces that prevent people from truly engaging each other must also divide him and his beloved.

The fourth stanza suggests that direct contact is possible only in fugitive moments, when human beings suddenly are aware of penetrating the distractions and struggles of life and realize that their apparently random actions are the result of the “buried stream,” of those unconscious drives that motivate human...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is built around a central metaphor: the evocation of an individual’s life and of life itself as a stream or river, ever flowing, ungraspable, and possessed of great depths. In the first line, for example, the lovers’ conversation “flows”—a delightful and yet troubling metaphor because their words, like water, resist definition and do not reach the core of identity or meaning.

The poet uses the metaphor explicitly in the fourth stanza in referring to the “unregarded river of our lifeeddying at large in blind uncertainty,” because human beings usually ignore the true roots of their selves.

The fifth stanza is even more explicit, as the speaker uses the phrase “our buried life” to parallel his use of “buried stream” in the fourth stanza. To track the “mystery of this heart,” to observe the “nameless feelings that course through our breast,” again continues the metaphor of the stream, the watercourse that contains within it unanalyzed elements. When the speaker evokes the moment of communion in the sixth stanza, it is also in the terms of water, as “a man becomes aware of his life’s flow.” Knowing his life’s basis is, as the last line of the poem suggests, similar to following the “sea where it goes.”

Comparing human lives to a stream, to the flowing of water, is a traditional metaphorical conception of human life, which Matthew Arnold uses to capture both the enigma and the energy of life. Even the speaker’s tears in...

(The entire section is 613 words.)