The Poem

“To Marguerite—Continued” was first published in 1852 under the title “To Marguerite, in Returning a Volume of the Letters of Ortis.” In 1853, Arnold gave this poem the simple title “To Marguerite” and included it in a group of poems with the general title of “Switzerland.” In 1857, he titled this poem “Isolation,” but in 1869 he gave that title to another “Switzerland” poem and assigned to this poem its final title.

Even though neither Marguerite nor Switzerland are mentioned in the poem, Arnold’s shufflings of texts and titles makes clear that “To Marguerite—Continued” belongs to his “Switzerland” group. Arnold visited Switzerland in 1848 and 1849. These poems, written mainly between 1847 and 1850, tell a love story of meetings and partings. There have been many theories of who Marguerite was; even though some have doubted her existence, these poems probably had their beginnings in a real—and unfulfilled—love relationship. Other “Switzerland” poems hint that Arnold found his desires thwarted by his inner moral voice, or by differences in the lovers’ cultural pasts (Marguerite may have been French), or by her sexual experience, or by Marguerite’s fickleness. At the end of the poem that eventually was placed before “To Marguerite—Continued,” Arnold abstracts from his experience: Unlike other men who dream that two hearts could become as one, Arnold knows that he is truly alone. As a whole, these...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Forms and Devices

This poem is written in iambic tetrameter, a meter that usually reads quickly. Yet its four stanzas’ rhyme scheme of ababcc makes each end in a rather emphatic couplet, ensuring that the poem’s progress is stately and, even when impassioned, not out of control.

The essential device of “To Marguerite—Continued” is its metaphor comparing human beings to individual islands separated by “the sea of life.” What makes this poem remarkable is how this rather simple comparison grows and branches out to say more and more about the human condition. The islands are conscious. Each person feels caught in the clasp of the sea and thereby knows his or her bounds or limits. Stanza 2 further develops the metaphor by emphasizing that each island is near a number of other islands, so near that occasionally songs can be heard from other islands. The season of “spring” implies that these occasions happen mainly when one is young, and songs suggests that the possible communications are lyrical and emotional.

Stanza 3 takes the idea of this island even further: As each island has its “farthest caverns,” each individual yearns in the deepest part of his or her being. Moreover, back in geological time the islands could have been “Parts of a single continent!” That is, each human being yearns so hard that he or she envisions a time when these yearnings were satisfied and prays that the islands can meet once again. The last stanza proceeds without a metaphor in its opening lines, then Arnold eloquently brings out what had been only implicit before—the nature of the...

(The entire section is 654 words.)