Term Paper: Jones the Hidden Self

Pages: 7 (2315 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Although the fact that Arnold and Whitman are both, at least, aware of their buried lives, seems to be a mark in their favor, as well as a mark above the common man, the human condition is, nonetheless, acutely painful.

Although many might argue that "The Buried Life" is ultimately resolved with the lines:

The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,/And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know./A man becomes aware of his life's flow, And hears its winding murmur; and he sees/The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.

There, nonetheless, remains a melancholy tone that does not abate, even as "A man becomes aware of his life's flow, / And hears its winding murmur..." Perhaps, to Arnold, the poem is resolved, yet its gray mist remains.

Whitman's poems, on the other hand, seem to hold a strident tone that either gives one hope in his confidence in his ability to unearth his buried life, or tempts the reader to imagine his complete self-delusion on the matter -- almost as if his defiance and declaration of success over the false world is simply another facade of bravado. For, where Arnold shows despair most clearly, Whitman almost belts it out, while, in the end, slapping down the pain of inauthenticity by brute will alone.

In addition, both poets seem to be using the poems as a kind of cathartic device by which they can work out their angst concerning the false lives they feel (or have felt) forced to lead. Indeed, all four poems seem so similar in theme and message, as well as so familiar on the individual reader level, that the somehow, universal quality of the suffering of the human condition comes through. Not only does the reader notice the same issues in their own life, but he or she recognizes the poems role in the poets' lives.

Of course, the concept of "reality" is central in all four poems. Not only is a dual reality presented in all four poems, "The buried life," "paths untrodden," "different from what you suppose," and "all illusion." Yet, reality is presented as something far deeper than the mere existence of dual worlds (perhaps dueling worlds). Instead, in all four poems, reality is represented as an undercurrent that does not enjoy equal time with the artificially life of "the world," a fact that Arnold touches on when he writes, "Ah! Well for us, if even we/Even for a moment, can get free/Our heart, and have our lips umchain'd;/For that which seals them hath been deep-ordained!" Whitman also acknowledges this struggle, this inequality of time in which the two realities can dominate one's consciousness. He writes, "my real self has yet to come forth." That Whitman writes this sentence, acknowledging that at 41 years of age, his real self has yet to come forth, indicates the extreme imbalance between he two realities -- as well as the inherent difficulty in accessing the deeper one.

When Helen Vendler wore that poetry offers "a personal sense of the world" (Vendler, 287), she couldn't be more correct than in the case of the four poems presented here. Not only does the poetry of Matthew Arnold and Walt Whitman give the reader an extremely clear sense of their "personal sense of the world," but they have the rare distinction of possessing the trait of truly great poetry. For if mere poetry can offer the author's personal sense of the world, the great poetry of Arnold and Whitman evoke the readers sense of the word, for the words resonate with universal truth. Indeed, the buried life, and the life of illusion are all too familiar to humankind as a whole -- even if they seek to bury it all the deeper for the pain it evokes. Arnold and Whitman do not shy away from that pain, however, and through their poetry, they illuminate the "real world" for those of us who are too timid to evoke it on our own.

Works Cited

Vendler, Helen.

Arnold, Matthew. Stedman, Edmund Clarence, ed. "The Buried Life." A Victorian Anthology, 1837-1895. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1895; Bartleby.com, 2003.

A www.bartleby.com/246/.Retrieved from Web site on April 20, 2004.

Whitman, Walt. "In Paths Untrodden.," "Are You the New Person, Drawn Toward Me?" "Ah Poverty, Wincings Sulky Retreats. http://www.poemhunter.com/p/m/poem.asp?poet=3108&poem=15513Retrieved from Web site on April 20, 2004. [END OF PREVIEW]

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