Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse

by Matthew Arnold

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

The main themes of Matthew Arnold's Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse are sanctuary, faith, knowledge, art, and the meaning of life.

Sanctuary: The poem tells the story of Arnold's journey to the monastery of the Carthusians, a place where he hopes to find solace from his life. Arnold sees the monastery as a sanctuary away from the pain and destitution of life.

Faith: The theme of faith is seen in various ways throughout the poem. Most obviously is the fact that the place Arnold journeys is the home of monks, who are beholden to their faith. They take a vow of silence and dedicate their lives to prayer, generosity, and other tenants of their religion. Arnold himself had faith when he was young, which is torn away from him as he ages. He travels to the monastery in the hopes that he will find a way back into his faith.

Knowledge: Knowledge is interwoven with faith in the poem. It is Arnold's teachers who try to tear him away from his faith when he is young. It is also knowledge, that which Arnold has gained during a life in the real world, that helps Arnold to see his true path when he seems lost.

Art: Arnold turns to the poetry of some famous romantic poets to explore the ways they deal with grief and the sadness of the world. Through their words, Arnold sees that art is a coping mechanism as much for the creators as the viewers. He sees them as role models, men he should aspire to follow. In creating this poem, he does follow in their footsteps.

The meaning of life: Though Arnold has been looking for a place to hide away from the world, to find his way back to his faith, he instead sees that the meaning of life is in all the moments you don't hope or plan for. When he considers truly spending his life secluded in the monastery, he comes to realize that he'd be like a child locked in an abbey, only seeing the world through brief glimpses out a window.

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