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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440

In the opening stanza of Matthew Arnold's poem "Isolation. To Marguerite," the speaker describes how he was separated from his beloved (presumably the titular Marguerite). In this stanza, he states that in being separated from his beloved, he "bade" his heart become even more constant towards his beloved, increasing in its feelings towards her. He suggests that he grew a "home" in his heart for Marguerite and did not have any fears about Marguerite's own feelings, believing that she too was becoming ever more fond of him.

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In the second stanza, the speaker says that he was mistaken to believe this. He criticizes himself for not having known at this juncture that the human heart can fall into a trap in which it "bind[s]" itself on its own to a love which is actually not returned by its intended recipient. He explains that his feelings continued to grow but were not reciprocated by Marguerite, who had ceased to love him.

The speaker therefore bids "farewell" to Marguerite and addresses his lonely heart, personifying it as if it were the heart itself, rather than the speaker, who was the font of love. He describes how his heart faithfully trained itself towards Marguerite but must now return to its "solitude," untethered as it is to anyone else's loving heart.

Next, the speaker describes the "thrill of shame" with which the heart returns to its lonely place, equating it with that felt by the moon goddess Luna when she descended from the height of the stars to hang above her would-be lover, Endymion.

He suggests, however, that Luna never quite recognized the perils of mortal love; she knew that she was far removed from her human lover and could never really enter into his sphere of existence. It was not for her to realize that humans are essentially alone.

The speaker goes on to clarify that, while a human may not be entirely alone, he or she is touched by "unmating things" such as the seas, clouds, the seasons, life, and the happiness of other people.

He identifies these happier people as those who were released from their "isolation" by the belief—obviously, the mistaken belief in many cases—that two hearts might be bound together by love. These people, the speaker suggests, are really just as alone as anyone else, but they are happier because they have not realized this fact. Unlike the speaker, they have not been disabused of the notion that love between two people can bind their two hearts together; it is the recognition of this isolation which creates the true isolation in which the speaker now languishes.

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Themes