How Is the Poetry of William Wordsworth & Matthew Arnold Similar?
Because Matthew Arnold admired William Wordsworth so highly, believing his talents to be greater than Shakespeare's even, it's little wonder that his poetry should share many notable similarities with Wordsworth's. Despite the fact that Wordsworth is a Romantic poet and Arnold a Victorian poet, the two men exhibited a comparably simple style and deal with some of the same topics and themes, such as nature and morality.
Use of Nature
Both Wordsworth and Arnold often used scenes of nature to dramatize an epiphany the speaker experiences. In the former's poem "Tintern Abbey," the speaker revisits the banks of the Wye River after five long years and discovers the healing power nature has on a person's weary soul and, indeed, "the fever of the world." Arnold, more skeptical than Wordsworth, comes to a different conclusion in his famous "Dover Beach." Set against the backdrop of England's "tranquil bay," the speaker declares that we must be "true / To one another" because the "melancholy" world offers no peace.
Nostalgia and a wistful longing for our former, more innocent selves play prominent roles in both poets' work. In Wordsworth's "Ode," the speaker bemoans the loss of the seemingly magical connection children have with nature. The "meadow, grove, and stream" are no longer "apparelled in celestial light" when adult observers view them. Arnold's attitude toward aging is much harsher. In "Growing Old," he suggests that time is a cruel force that leaves us with only a "dull remembrance" of our better days and that aging turns us into a "phantom of ourselves."
Simplicity in Style
In his preface to "Lyrical Ballads," Wordsworth advocates the use of "a plainer and more emphatic language" when writing poetry because it cuts to the quick of pastoral life. Rural people, he explains, "convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions," making their way of speaking "far more philosophical." This stylistic simplicity is found throughout Wordsworth and Arnold's work, and in fact the latter's poetry was often criticized in his day for being too plain in style.
Both men were deeply concerned with moral issues of their day. Wordsworth's "Michael," about a shepherd whose grown son becomes sinful upon moving away from home, dramatizes the idea that modern industry and city life corrupt the innocent. After stumbling upon a hidden monastery, the speaker in Arnold's "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse" meditates on the negative effect modern life has had on humanity's morals and commitment to religion.
- Loyola eCommons: The Poetic Doctrines of Wordsworth and Arnold: A Comparative Study of Critical Theories in the Nineteenth Century
- Scholars at Harvard: Wordsworth's Imaginative Duty
- Romantic Politics: “The Youth . . . Still Is Nature’s Priest”: Wordsworth and the Child of Nature
- The Victorian Web: Matthew Arnold and the Twenty-first Century
Following a 10-year career in high school education, Joseph Guyer works as a marketing copywriter for a financial firm. He received a Master of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he teaches technical writing.