Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse

by Matthew Arnold

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Matthew Arnold's Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse is a poem named for a famous seventeenth-century church in Grenoble, France that serves as the primary monastery of the Carthusian order of Catholic monks (and original producers of Chartreuse alcohol). Matthew Arnold wrote Stanzas while visiting the region in the 1850s. The poem was first published in 1855 in Fraser's Magazine, and in it, the author bemoans the general population's loss of faith.

First, the writer describes the landscape of the Alpine mountains. The season is autumn and he is traveling with a group when he sees spires poking through the trees. He suspects it might be a royal palace, but then learns it is the cathedral of the Carthusians. The speaker notices the overgrown garden of blossoming flowers that the monks cultivate.

The speaker asks for forgiveness from the monks and claims to live between two words (the world of learning and scholarship and the world of religion). The speaker then addresses himself to the Romantic poets, pondering whether Bryon's verses contributed to Europe's woe. He wonders the same of the work of Shelley and of the the early nineteenth-century novel, Obermann. The speaker claims that certain "eternal trifler[s]" are not afflicted with sadness owing to these Romantic poets, but that the learned men (such as the speaker) are.

In the last several stanzas, the speaker describes a group of soldiers marching in full uniform on a nearby road. He next describes a group of hunters gathering at a lodge in a different direction. The speaker (and the monks) can hear their revelry, and he wonders if it attracts the monks. The poem closes with the imagined monologue of the monks themselves, who claim that they cannot "grow in other ground" or "flower in foreign air." The monks are conditioned to their cloistered lifestyle, and content with the hope of salvation symbolized by the candles in their convent.

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