Last Updated September 5, 2023.
“Isolation. To Marguerite” by Matthew Arnold is a poem about love and separation. It was published in 1857. The content of the poem focuses on love and loss, and how Arnold’s speaker feels foolish to have put such faith in his lover just for their connection to have been broken.
In the opening stanza of Matthew Arnold's poem "Isolation. To Marguerite," the speaker describes how he was separated from his beloved (presumably, this is the titular Marguerite). In this stanza, he states that in being separated from his beloved, he "bade" his heart to become even more constant toward her, 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 despite separation.
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. He says goodbye to Marguerite.
The speaker repeats his bid of "farewell" to Marguerite. In doing so, he 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.
Just as he has returned to his solitude, the speaker also describes the "thrill of shame" with which the heart returns to its lonely place. He equates it with what is felt by the moon goddess Luna when she descended from the height of the stars to hang above her would-be lover, Endymion. The two are impossibly separated.
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 that creates the true isolation in which the speaker now languishes.