The Buried Life by Matthew Arnold Analysis

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This poem analysis is divided into two parts – rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices, and title of the poem. Read the Buried Life by Matthew Arnold analysis here:-

The Buried Life by Matthew Arnold Analysis

Rhyme Scheme in The Buried Life and Rhetorical Devices: No single rhyme scheme is followed throughout the length of ‘The Buried Life’. However, the pattern of end rhymes in each stanza is easy to follow and contributes significantly to the pleasure of reading this poem. For example, in the first stanza, the pattern is AABCDCCEDEB. Tracing out all of these stanza-wise patterns is beyond the scope of this poem explanation, but individual readers can take this up as an exercise in exploring Arnold’s diverse and atypical use of rhyme.

This poem analysis would be incomplete without mentioning Arnold’s use of two rhetorical devices in this poem – apostrophe, and metaphor. Apostrophe is a mode of address using the first person with which poets often summon up the image of a listener in their individual poems. ‘The Buried Life’ in its entirety is addressed to Arnold’s beloved, and his use of words like “thy” to refer to her words and gestures is evidence of his application of apostrophe in this poem.

Arnold also uses an extended metaphor in ‘The Buried Life’. A metaphor is used to make comparisons, and here Arnold compares the flow of man’s inner thoughts to that of a river. Throughout the poem, he describes man’s efforts to trace this flow, and concludes that it is only possible to do so when one experiences love in all its profundity.

Title of the Poem: This part of the poem explanation focuses on two possible concepts that the title of ‘The Buried Life’ could refer to – existential angst, and psychoanalytic impulses.

Existential Angst: Even an elementary reading of existentialist philosophy by the likes of Jean Paul Sartre or Albert Camus would show their concern with inauthentic living. Existentialist philosophers are always worried that human beings do not live life as openly as they should, and instead disguise their true selves, and this is exactly what Arnold talks about in ‘The Buried Life’ as well.

Thus the title of this poem may be referring to the fact that the thoughts that one shares with one’s fellow men are but the surface, and what flows beneath is buried far down in one’s breast. Though ‘the Buried Life’ predates existentialism by many decades, it is undeniable that poetry like Arnold’s captures the spirit of the age and in this case, of the ages to come as well. Arnold’s message, as well that of the existentialists, about the continuing search for authenticity in human emotions, is in fact still relevant to us today.

Psychoanalytic Impulses: A mere fifty years after Arnold writes and publishes ‘The Buried Life’, the world at large is introduced to Sigmund Freud, the father of the school of psychoanalysis. Freud says that the human mind is divisible into three parts – the conscious, the subconscious or the preconscious, and the unconscious. Freud then goes on to compare the human mind to an iceberg, and says that the conscious part of the mind is like the ten percent that can be seen by the naked eye above water, but that the unconscious accounts for the remaining ninety percent that is submerged beneath the surface of water, and is thus invisible.

This is eerily reminiscent of the image Arnold uses towards the end of ‘The Buried Life’ when he talks about how certain faint echoes of our inner selves sometimes float upwards from our souls. If Freud had read this poem, he would no doubt have said that these faint echoes are thoughts coming out of the unconscious into consciousness. Arnold also says at one point that our deepest thoughts attempt to find ways out of our being but that we block all the available outlets in this case.

Freud would surely agree, saying that dreams and slips of tongue are evidence of this. Hence, we can effectively argue that the title of ‘The buried Life’ refers to an elementary understanding of the human soul as a hidden part of human beings that is not easily revealed in reality. Read more: The Buried Life Summary by Matthew Arnold

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