Culture and Anarchy & Dover Beach

Within the introduction, I tried to grasp the concepts behind Modernity, and what I could really get ahold of involved the sense of separation. Those authors writing within the age of Modernity, or the Victorian age, were deemed hopeless in the eyes of Arnold, because in these times it was an age of selfishness. Arnold refers to it as “an age wanting in moral grandeur… an age of spiritual discomfort” (1559). In other words, this age is lacking in beauty and intellect which Arnold refers to as “sweetness and light” (1559) and without these factors, you can’t write poetry that can move and grow the reader. If your poetry can not “animate and ennoble” (1557) your audience, you have not done your duty as an author. With these ideas in mind, I read Culture and Anarchy and “Dover Beach.”

While reading “Dover Beach”, I came across the same ideas of selfishness and hopelessness of this modern world Arnold seems to feel stuck in. For example, the poem opens by setting up a scene of the author looking out across the sea and recalling that those in the past would have done the same, but he looks to the world he has to go back into, and is disappointed.  Although this world “seems to lie before us like a land of dreams” it in fact has “neither joy, nor love, no light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (1562). This quote goes along with the idea that there is no “sweetness or light”, which is essentially beauty and intellect. 

Within Culture and Anarchy, the part that struck me the most that pertained to the ideas of Modernity had to do with the idea of selfishness and separation. Arnold uses the term “culture” in an unusual way for me. He uses it as almost a movement, saying things like “Culture is then…a study of perfection” and goes further on this path saying “the pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light… it [culture] is not satisfied till we all come to a perfect man” (1596). So not only does culture have a weight to it, it has emotions and aspirations, but within this age, man does not fulfill these things. Man has become selfish and instead of “the noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it” (1596) man has “the assertion of personal liberty” (1597). This is a block for all writers, according to Arnold, that prevents the process of good writing. 


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