To Marguerite—Continued

by Matthew Arnold

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"The Unplumbed, Salt, Estranging Sea"

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Context: This poem is the fifth of a group of six love poems grouped under the title "Switzerland." The group is a chronicle of a love affair between the speaker and Marguerite: the beginning, development, conclusion, and aftermath. In "Isolation. To Marguerite" the speaker describes how the affair closed. Although they had been apart, the speaker had remained faithful, believing that her love, too, grew each day. He sadly learns, however, that "The heart can bind itself alone,/ And faith may oft be unreturned." He envies other men whose faith in the power of love releases them from their isolation. He develops this idea in an extended metaphor in "To Marguerite–Continued." Here he describes mankind as solitary islands dotting the sea of life. Only on spring-like, song-filled, starry nights do they long for union: "For surely once, they feel, we were/ Parts of a single continent!" The speaker asks why this state cannot be:

Who ordered, that their longing's fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cooled?
Who renders vain their deep desire?–
A God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumbed, salt, estranging sea.

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