Monday, July 23, 2007

Matthew Arnold

In a letter to his sister in 1853 Matthew Arnold wrote the following:

Fret not yourself to make my poems square in all their parts, but like what you can my darling The true reason why parts suit you while others do not is that my poems are fragments --

Well, in spite of Arnold's opinion of his own poetry, the 'fragments' stand up very nicely over the years and seem better than he claimed. One of his poems, a favorite of mine, while short, is a poem with wisdom beyond its brief stanzas: Quiet Work. In this poem Arnold muses on the lesson that Nature offers in her toil born with tranquillity. He ends the poem speaking of Nature's 'sleepless ministers' who move on:

Their glorious tasks in silence perfecting
Still working, blaming still our vain turmoil,
Labourers that shall not fail, when man is gone.

While we cannot reasonably expect perfection in man we can hope for the habit of labour that yields the fruit of wisdom.

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