Holding on to Nature, Stiff-arming Modernity

      In Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” Arnold expresses a few of his regrets over the modernizing of his country, but in particular, he portrays regrets over the increasing detachment from nature. His poetry laments “we are here as on a darkling plain/ swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/ where ignorant armies clash by night” (35-38). His poem suggests his cynical view that appreciation for faith and nature is a “withdrawing roar/ Retreating, to the breath/ Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear/ And naked shingles of the world” (Arnold 25-29).

      His work, Culture and Anarchy, goes even further to lay out his views on modernity. In this work, he specifically attacks the rise in machine driven industry. He sees the Industrial Revolution leading the people away from the culture of “sweetness and light” towards a passionless uniformity (1596). He also fears an indoctination of the “masses” to a conformed “set of ideas and judgments” leading them away from “a sheer desire to see things as they are, natural and proper in an intelligent being” (1596).

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3 thoughts on “Holding on to Nature, Stiff-arming Modernity

  1. That’s really interesting, I hadn’t focused in on his lamentation of the detachment from nature. I’m not sure I agree that he’s cynical though. Why do you think he’s cynical?

    • By “cynical view” I meant his doubtful, disparaging attitude towards the direction his society was moving; it may not have been the best word to convey his feelings for modernity.

  2. A good comparison here, with appropriate quotes to shape your discussion. However, I’d love to see you go further in analyzing how Arnold holds on to nature in the face of industrial modernity. What sort of meaning does nature seem to have in “Dover Beach” and Culture and Anarchy? An interesting question to ponder in comparison to the Romantic sensibility, which seemed to be quite different.

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