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" contains 35 stanzas of six lines each, set in iambic tetrameter. Generally, the poem tells the story of a journey Arnold takes to the monastery of the Carthusians. The purpose of this journey is to seek shelter and sustenance from the monks. Once there, Arnold has the opportunity to reflect on his lack of faith and the metaphorical journey he took to his current belief in art.

The characters in the poem are Arnold, his guide, the Carthusian monks, the teachers of his youth, some famous Romantic poets, and the children of the abbey.

Arnold is seeking a safe place to stay and some food and warmth. When he arrives at the monastery, and reflects upon a childhood of religious faith which turned into a belief that God does not exist, he begs the monks to take him in and restore him to the man he once was.

The guide leads Arnold to the monastery.

The monks live in what Arnold describes as a "world-famed home." They dedicate their lives to their faith and to this particular monastery that they call home. Arnold suggests they will die and be buried there as well. The have taken a vow of silence, and Arnold is quite taken with this idea, suggesting they are "the best" people the world has to offer.

Arnold's teachers are described as fairly bleak. He says they stripped away his faith and tried to show him the truth, which he suggests is a lack of God in the world.

For rigorous teachers seized my youth,
And purged its faith, and trimm'd its fire,
Show'd me the high, white star of Truth,

Famous poets Byron, Shelley, and Étienne Pivert de Sénancour are referenced in later stanzas. While Arnold is lamenting the grief that life brings, both with the loss of people whom we love but also through the loss of faith, he turns to these poets. The words of these men bring him peace and he ultimately feels they have the right idea in dealing with sadness—to write beautiful poetry about it.

Children who live in an abbey are used as a metaphor for the life Arnold seeks in the monastery. They are shielded from harm but also from excitement. They might peek out a window and see the world, but they are not offered the opportunity to explore it.

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