Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Explicitly and implicitly, in “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” the poet has explained the predicament of a person with spiritual aspirations in the modern world. Even though he respects the faith of the Carthusians and, by extension, of other Christians, Arnold cannot embrace it. As his images of the monks and the monastery suggest, the poet believes that faith is dead.

On the other hand, while Arnold still respects the teachers of his youth, their rationalism has not given him a basis for living. Similarly, he cannot see any lasting benefit from the passion of the Romantics, whose descriptions of their own pain did not in any way lessen the pain of future generations.

Evidently, the poet believes that his world is given over to the pursuit of pleasure and of material progress. In ironic phrases, he praises the men of action, who dominate nature, who “triumph over time and space.” Certainly, they are energetic, but as he politely rejects them, the poet is suggesting that all their pride and all their energy are purposeless and superficial.

Having rejected Christianity, rationalism, Romanticism, and materialism, Arnold seems to have very little left. He is in a kind of limbo, “Wandering between two worlds, one dead,/ The other powerless to be born.” Yet, the poem is not totally pessimistic. One must recall the poet’s identification with children in the imagined abbey, who “watch those yellow tapers shine,/...

(The entire section is 410 words.)