Arnold’s engagement with Modernity

Matthew Arnold addresses a number of what he considers fundamental flaws in English culture in relation to modernity. In Culture and Anarchy, He speaks of the need for men to live in “sweetness and light” with each other and working to fulfill the “will of God” and let it prevail in this culture (p.1596). The converse of the life in sweetness and light, is presented as one “who works for machinery, he who works for hatred.” The message which comes across is that of the machine — and the fast-paced modern life — being associated with both hatred for fellow man and lack of faith in God. With the rise of technology and science in this era, there was surely a challenge to many’s faith in God, and Arnold presents this as a having serious implications for the English society.

“Dover Beach” likewise touches upon these opposing images of sweetness and light, versus man’s growing reliance upon the modern world and losing sight of God. The first stanza opens by describing peaceful, beautiful seaside, and ends with an “eternal note of sadness” as the reality of man’s misguided path toward less pure ideals – this “human misery” – sets in. Beginning in Line 21, the issue is spelled out: “The Sea of Faith” – man’s faith in God – was once a loud and “full” reality, but now is only a “melancholy” and “withdrawing roar.” Arnold ends that though beautiful and seemingly full of joy, this world is truly misguided, shrouded in darkness and war, “where ignorant armies clash by night.”

Culture, Anarchy, Dover Beach, and Modernism

In “Culture and Anarchy”, Matthew Arnold takes a stand against the trends he noticed arising from modernism. This can be seen when he writes, “He who works for machinery, he who works for hatred, works only for confusion.” When Arnold mentions “He who works for machinery”, he brings to mind images of the harsh work environments workers suffered in the factory environment during the modern period. In this way, Arnold states that those working in the factory environment, which is such an integral component of the new, modern world Arnold was living in, are subjugated to hate filled task masters who seek to bring only confusion to society.

This sentiment is shared by Arnold’s poem, “Dover Beach”. This can be seen in the lines,, “Into his turbid ebb and flow Of human misery.” The “turbid ebb and flow” which Arnold references here could easily be read as a reference to the work days suffered by factory workers. In these instances, Arnold shows a strong lament for the state of modern life.

Matthew Arnold and Modernity

In Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold combines the notions of romantic love and modernity, in order to contrast them. One point here where Arnold engages with modernity is in the last stanza, where he addresses his love directly, and laments that the “grating roar” that Sophocles once heard can only be heard now in retreat.

This theme comes up again in Culture and Anarchy, where Arnold discusses the lack of Hellenic spirit within the British people. It is this exact Hellenic spirit which Sophocles heard, that reminded him of the “ebb and flow / Of human misery”. The sound of the roaring surf, otherwise known as the sweetness and light sought by Arnold, is missing from the British national scene, having been replaced by a neo-constitutionalist drive towards every British man doing what he pleases, which Arnold views as contrary to British national interest. Herein lies the modernity that Arnold thinks Britain is crashing into; it is a loss of a spirit that created literature in the past, and that pointed humanity in the proper direction once before, in ancient times. To prevent this, Arnold says “let us be true / To one another”, and whether this is an explicit reference to his love in the poem or to his common British citizen is rightly ambiguous.

Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

I know this isn’t exactly the assignment, but I couldn’t figure out which image I wanted to use and thus can’t focus on that aspect of it, so I thought I’d just give my own opinion/understanding and general interpretation of the text, if that’s okay as a possible alternative.

The first striking role which is cast in Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven of Hell” is the role that Blake casts of Swedenborg, which is that of an Angel who is guarding his empty linens. Since we know that Blake is disagreeing with the writings of Swedenborg, the role Swedenborg occupies is at first perplexing. Angels are supposed to be good, right, and truthful in all things, since they are the sacred messengers of god. However, we are immediately given the reason for it, because Blake introduces the notion of this role-reversal, where he is illustrating the idea that just as logic and passion both exist in the same world, so does his unique definitions of good and evil. This idea is profound—we, as humans, realize that there are opposites in the world, things that are contradictory in nature yet exist simultaneously. We, perhaps foolishly, do not often think of religion in this context. Instead, we try to categorize acceptable human behavior and beliefs, when in fact it is an affront to culture and humanity to do so. We, again as humans, inevitably fail in this separation—we have both good and evil behaviors. The idea is put forth that not only do these things, good and evil, exist together, but that it is indeed impossible to separate them. The world needs both. Human existence itself demands both. Blake’s reversal of the traditional ideas of angels and devils is astonishing and effective. The Proverbs of Hell ring true (to me at least) and remind us that it is not sinful to have passion, it is not sinful to question the teachings of authority. Religion has an ugly tendency to attempt to take our (admittedly lesser) human qualities away from us. We shouldn’t lie, have sex, question god. Blake, as the devil, is telling us that it is no sin to be human. It is a sad thing to crush these follies that make us human (by blindly subscribing to the unnecessary rules of religion), and as Blake himself says, “Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained . . . . And being restrained it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.”

“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

“Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”

This one quote attracted me to the entire piece due to the frankness of the statement. Where there is good, there is evil. Later on in the piece, it states in one of the “A Memorable Fancy” section of the piece, ” ‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind’.” This might be completely incorrect in the interpretation of the piece, but in order for one to alter his/her mind, one must draw upon the contraries of life.

This is the link to the picture that alludes to both heaven and hell. It contains the quoted passage I alluded to in the beginning of this post. This picture really is not confusing to me, but it does help further my point regarding the contraries in life: Good and Evil, Mortality and Death, Heaven and Hell. All of these aspects make the world go round.

Blake’s “Marriage”

Whenever I read Blake, I remember how distinct his style is. I enjoy Blake, though sometimes I feel the pleasure is more for his originality/ varying style than, say, the actual work. The man’s work definitely seems ahead of his time, which gives him a certain flair. I feel as if the paintings he created, especially for “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” add much more depth than the poem alone would give. These plates, especially the title plate, set up the feelings of the reader and bring another level to the experience. At least I know it did for me.

The Marriage, AKA balance.

I really enjoyed “The Marriage”, it seems to be an understanding of the world from a non-traditional point of view, which I find rare, even today.  Blake’s writing is essentially a view of good and evil minus all the polarization. It takes the standard view of good and evil and turns it on it’s head by dubbing them reason and energy, respectively. He breaks down the normal view of morality into a sort of perspectivism, saying that, “the crow wish’d that everything was black, the owl everything was white.” Personally I love this piece not only for the views hat it holds but also the remarkable period that it was created. This work gives credence to the introductory material that noted Blake’s eccentricity. I think the solution to the problems outlined by “The Marriage” is a universal paradigm shift, where everyone recognizes that everyone is different, and bases their formulation of right and wrong from that perspective, something that seemed impossible then as well as today.