To Marguerite—Continued

by Matthew Arnold

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Analysis of the themes and tone in Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite."

Summary:

Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite" explores themes of isolation and unattainable love, conveying a sense of melancholy and longing. The poem reflects on the separation between individuals, emphasizing the emotional distance that cannot be bridged despite physical proximity. The tone is reflective and somber, underscoring the poet's contemplation of human disconnection and the impossibility of perfect union.

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What is the theme of Matthew Arnold's poem "To Marguerite?"

Matthew Arnold’s poem “To Marguerite” is typical of Arnold’s writings in its emphasis on human loneliness and alienation. Of all the English poets of the nineteenth century, Arnold is perhaps the gloomiest, partly because he thought that many earlier sources of truth and inspiration had come under severe challenge during his own time. Christianity, which had once provided consolation and assurance to many people, was now under severe attack, as more and more intelligent people began to doubt the truth not only of that religion but indeed of any religion. In addition, the Romantic poets, who had seemed to offer a new source of inspiration through their emphasis on the harmony of man and nature, were now increasingly perceived as naïve thinkers of merely wishful thoughts. Little wonder, then, that the speaker of Arnold’s poem exclaims that

We mortal millions live alone.

Each word of this line is intriguing. The word “mortal” implies the idea not only that we all will die but that nothing – no new life – exists beyond death. We “live,” but we live only briefly and are fated to die. There are millions of us, but we have no real, essential bonds with one another except our shared fate: death. “We” are “millions,” but each of us is fundamentally isolated and “alone.” The word “alone” is italicized because it expresses the key idea not only of this poem but of much of Arnold’s poetry.

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What is the theme of Matthew Arnold's poem "To Marguerite?"

Matthew Arnold published multiple versions of the poem "To Marguerite." In all of them, he is reflecting on his own experience as a English poet in love with a Frenchwoman. The issues of the relationship, including geographical separation of the narrator from his beloved is reflected in an extended geographical simile based on the literal geographical situation of England being an island separated from France by the Dover Channel. He sees the human condition as parallel to that of his individual position, i.e. humans as isolated islands in a vast sea. This sea simultaneously acts as geographical barrier or division and unifier, as the same sea washes on the shores of England and France, just as he suggests, that the same immanent God eventually encompasses all of humanity and both unites and divides them.

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What is the central theme of Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite"?

Another great English poet, John Donne, famously wrote that "No man is an island." Yet in his short poem "To Marguerite: Continued," Matthew Arnold would beg to differ. He uses islands as a metaphor for the huge existential gulf that exists between people. Just as we all die alone—only we can die our own deaths—so we "mortal millions" also live alone.

Yet it wasn't always like this. Just as the great continents of the Earth were once joined together, so too did human beings enjoy a much closer connection in the far-distant past. And it is that connection that Arnold wishes to see re-established in a culture and a society becoming ever more fragmented and atomized.

This is a constant refrain in Arnold; one thinks of "The Scholar Gypsy" in this regard. And as a great lover of Ancient Greece and its culture, Arnold longed for the relative harmony and unity of Greek society, seeing it as the very antithesis of the Victorian world, with its rampant individualism and fragmentation.

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What is the central theme of Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite"?

In "To Marguerite," Arnold writes of estrangement and loneliness, imagining that the gulf that separates each of us from others to be like a sea. In contrast to Donne's contention that "no man is island," Arnold envisions us all as little islands. We long for deep communion with others, but we are cut off. Arnold envisions humankind as once a single continent and writes that we have a "longing like despair" (he uses the word "longing" twice in the poem) that once again our "marges" or edges might meet.

In saying we were once one continent, once a true community of people who were not isolated and estranged, Arnold looks back to a better time, implying that the isolated way we now live is not how life necessarily has to be. As he looks around, trying to understand what caused the current separateness, he fixes on God as the answer:

Who renders vain their deep desire?—

A God, a God, their severance ruled.

Arnold leaves it an open question which God—he says "a" God, not "God"—caused this or why this God rules for separation, perhaps suggesting the situation could change. He leaves the reader with a lonely final image: that of us cut off by the "salt, estranging sea."

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What is the central theme of Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite"?

The central theme of the poem "To Marguerite" by Matthew Arnold is human isolation. This is one of a group of poems, of which the best known is "Dover Beach", written by Matthew Arnold in response to a failed romantic relationship with a young French woman, He sees the isolation of England as an island, and the Dover straits separating England from France, as metaphors for his feelings about being separated from Marguerite:

Yes: in the sea of life enisled,

With echoing straits between us thrown.

Dotting the shoreless watery wild,

We mortal millions live alone.

In this poem, Arnold struggles with a loss of faith as well, because individual isolation would not be complete if "the sea of faith" had not retreated. Where for his father's generation, the personal situation of separation from a beloved would be balanced by a constant sense of the presence of God, Arnold himself no longer has that reassuring personal religious certainty.

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What themes should be analyzed in Matthew Arnold's poem "To Marguerite- Continued"?

A critical analysis of themes would describe and evaluate the meaning of Arnold's poem and back any ideas stated with quotes from the text. One theme in the poem includes isolation on a universal level which describes how we as humans are estranged from each other; this includes a lament that God is responsible for this situation, and the narrator's seeming sense of estrangement or distance from Marguerite.

The poem abounds in imagery of separation and isolation: we humans are on islands with "straits" (water) between us—an image that is repeated in different ways as the narrator emphasizes how humans are isolated. The narrator also plainly states, "We mortal millions live alone."

The poem also expresses the theme that we were once united. We sense this, the poet says, when we see the moonlight and the stars, feel balmy spring weather, and hear the nightingale sing. Then, we (the islands) think:

... surely once ...we were 
Parts of a single continent!  
However, as the narrator puts it in the final stanza, God "ruled" that we should be severed from the whole. This alludes to the idea of an original sin casting humans out of the intimate relationship Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden. 
As the poem is addressed to "Marguerite," we can assume the narrator has experienced an estrangement from Marguerite—a separation the narrator longs to overcome. 
The strongest theme is that of universal estrangement: we are all islands alienated from each other, longing to be joined again. This poem contradicts John Donne's famous contention written in a sermon several centuries before this poem: no man is an island, but we are all one human community. "No," says Arnold, we are not.  
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What themes should be analyzed in Matthew Arnold's poem "To Marguerite- Continued"?

Critically analysing the themes of Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite -- Continued" involves investigating the intersections of his views of religion, love, and poetry. The first theme you might consider is that of unrequited love, and in particular, how for Arnold, this seems to have some sort of cosmological and religious significance, which causes it not to be merely a portrait of the poetry of "suffering with no release in action" which he condemned in his 1853 Preface. Next, you should examine how the isolation of humans, like the division of islands by the sea, reflects the atomistic nature of our fallen condition:

A God, a God their severance rul’d!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea.

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How would you analyze the title, theme, and tone of Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite?"

Matthew Arnold’s poem “To Marguerite” is typical of much of Arnold’s poetry in its emphasis on isolation, alienation, longing for bonds with others, but resignation to the fact that such bonds, even if they once existed, are unlikely ever to exist again. The tone of the poem, like the tones found in many of Arnold’s poems, is melancholy and even somewhat depressing. The title of the poem is relevant to the theme of isolation: by addressing the poem to a specific, named person, the poet seeks to counteract, at least to a limited extent, the isolation that the poem laments.

In the course of developing these themes and conveying this tone, the poem employs a number of standard poetic techniques, including (for example)

  • Metaphor, as in line 1 (“the sea of life”).
  • Assonance, as in line 1 (“life enisled”).
  • Deliberately archaic diction, as in line 1 (“enisled”).
  • Alliteration, as in line 3 (“watery wild”).
  • Double alliteration, as in line 4:

We mortal millions live alone.

  • Pathetic fallacy (attributing human emotions to nature), as in line 5 (“The islands feel”).
  • Paradox, as in line 6 (“endless bounds”).
  • Regular iambic meter (in which odd syllables are unaccented and even syllable are accented), as in lines 7-8:

But when the moon their hollow lights,

And they are swept by balms of spring . . . .

  • Imagery of nature, as in the second stanza especially.
  • Anaphora (repetition of the same word or words at the beginnings of lines), as in line 8-9.
  • Enjambment (or lack of punctuation at the end of a line), as in line 13.
  • Personification, as in the way the islands are imagined to speak in stanza three.
  • Emphatic departure from regular iambic meter, as in the first word of line 16.
  • Rhetorical questions, as in the first three lines of stanza four.
  • Listing or cataloging, as in the emphatic list of adjectives in the last line of the poem.
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How would you analyze the title, theme, and tone of Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite?"

To thematically analyse the poem "To Marguerite" by Matthew Arnold, you need to identify the major themes and then write an essay which is organized thematically, addressing each theme, rather than organized as a summary of the poem starting at the beginning and continuing to the end.

The first theme you should cover is the individual situation of the narrator separated from his beloved by the English Channel. Perhaps the next theme to consider is human isolation in general, especially in what sense we can be isolated while still surrounded by people. The next theme would be the geographical metaphor of islands separated by oceans as analogous to human isolation. Then you would need to look at the religious themes, with the notion of a sea of faith as surrounding and connecting humans the way the ocean connects islands. Finally, conclude with the poets' despair when he sees God as not connecting but separating people and islands:

 

A God, a God their severance ruled;

And bade betwixt their shores to be

The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.

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