Matthew Arnold – Memorial Verses

Arnold’s poem expresses a fear that has a particular resonance with us today – the fear that the great age of poetry has finished and we are left in its wake. It elegizes three figures of Romantic poetry, Byron, Goethe and Wordsworth, three poets whose influence is felt strongly by Arnold. The poem serves as a manifesto for poetry, elucidating the qualities of Romantic poetry that appeal for Arnold. As well as a panegyric for Wordsworth, there is a sense in which the poem struggles against him, trying to lay to rest finally the ‘benumbing’ pressure of trying to live up to these mighty predecessors. Continue reading



I’ve just been writing an essay on Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind which I’ll put up tomorrow. I’ve realised that my writing style has a tendency to imbibe and imitate whatever critic I’m reading at the time. This week it was Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence, which probably accounts for sentences such as ‘For the West Wind is the deity which, paradoxically, heralds in its own destruction… the frantic dancing priestess whose funeral dirge is linked through dance to the Hindu God of destruction Shiva’. Which is pure Bloom, flamboyant and ridiculously esoteric. It’s a brilliant writing style to read and clearly its infectious, and doesn’t bother me all that much. After all if I already had my own mature, developed writing style I wouldn’t be subjecting myself to this furious essay writing crusade.

What is of slightly more concern is when the ideas – which in Bloom’s case I disagree with more or less without exception – begin to exert their influence (and only now am I slightly anxious about using that term) over the argument. I’m sometimes blinded by the newest idea I’ve assimilated, and just like a bright light it’s stuck itself on my retina for a moment, so that I begin to see things in the text that aren’t really there.

Consequently, whether Shelley really means to see poetry as ‘born out of struggle and destruction… only able to provide release by destroying its own inspiration’, perhaps will only become clear when I reread this essay in a few weeks time. If I’m then under the influence of some other critical bias, then perhaps a whole sequence of these misreadings will potentially circle upon the real meaning. In this way I can hope to trully overcome this ‘anxiety of influence’ that I actually don’t even believe in.