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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold by Ian Hamilton

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥♥

“The present book is an attempt to animate certain key moments, or turning points, in Arnold’s passage from the poetic life to the prose of his later years.”

The above is a very honest statement quoted from the book’s preface. Ian Hamilton is not trying to pull the wool over the reader’s eyes by suggesting that his book is the complete and definitive life of Matthew Arnold.
This stamp of honesty is ingrained throughout the book, within his style of writing, his objectiveness and his refraining from turning the biography into a hagiography.
Ian Hamilton has created a remarkable piece of work. It is made even more remarkable as it appears Arnold did not leave behind a bounty of diaries, letters etc from which a biography could be constructed.  
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Wordsworth, Browning and Tennyson, Arnold has all but been forgotten, his poetry no longer fashionable, consigned to be a poet only enjoyed by scholars.
While Arnold’s poetry never had the emotional charge of Wordsworth or the introspective humanity of Tennyson, it did have a grace and a force of nature. While the poetry of his contemporaries had all the beauty and style of a supermodel, Arnold’s poetry was the beauty of the soul, the person within not the external superficial beauty that one could tire of looking at.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Dover Beach

Ian Hamilton does a great service to the memory of Matthew Arnold with his insightful, intelligent and penetrating analysis of Arnold’s verse. Hamilton shows us the development of Arnold’s poetry and as such puts that work in context biographically and historically.
If there is one thing that a biography of a poet’s life should try to attain is to have the reader want to read or reread the poetry of the biographer’s subject.
Arnold turned his back on the world of poetry to concentrate on prose during the last twenty or so years of this life. The nineteenth century and beyond was a poorer place because of this decision.

“He thrust his gift in prison till it died”  W.H. Auden.

Number of Pages - 256
Sex Scenes - None
Profanity - None
Genre - Biography


  1. Lovely review. I don't know Arnold's poetry at all, but I love the bit you've quoted. :)

  2. Thank you, i'm glad you liked the review.