Discuss the achievement of Arnold as a critic in the light of the views expressed by him in ‘The Study of Poetry’.

Arnold expresses the following views in ‘The Study of aetry’:—
1.   The future of poetry is immense. All our creeds and religions have been shaken. They have grown too much tide down to facts. But for poetry the idea is everything. The stronger part of our religion today is its unconscious poetry.

2.   We should study poetry more and more, for poetry is capable of higher uses. We have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to enclose us, and to sustain us. Without poetry our science will remain incomplete and much that passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry.
3.   Poetry can fulfil its high function only if we keep high standards for it. No Charlatanism should be allowed to enter poetry. Arnold then defines poetry as “a criticism of life under the conditions fixed for that criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty.” Arnold does not explain what these laws are.
4.   Only the best poetry is capable of performing its task. Only that poetry which is the criticism of life can be our support and stay, when other help fails us. So it is important that readers should learn to choose the best. In choosing the best, the readers are warned against two kinds of fallacious judgment; the historic estimate and the personal estimate. The
readers should learn to value it as it really is in itself. The historic estimate is likely to affect our judgment when we are dealing with ancient poets, the personal estimate when we are dealing with our contemporary poets.
5.   Readers should insist on the real estimate, which means a recognition and discovery of the highest qualities which produce the best poetry. It should be a real classic and not a false classic. A true classic is one which belongs to the class of the very best, and such poetry we must “feel and enjoy as deeply as we can.”
6.   It is not necessary to lay down what in the abstract constitute the features of a high quality of poetry. It is as much better to study concrete example, to take specimens of poetry of the high, the very highest quality, and to say that the features of the highest poetry are what we find here. Short passages and single lines from Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton
and others may be memorised and applied as a touchstone to test the worth of the poems we want to read. The other poetry must not be required to resemble them; but if the touchstone quotations are used with tact, they will enable the reader to detect the presence or absence
of the highest poetic quality.
7.   However, in order to satisfy those who emphasize that some criteria of excellence should be laid down. Arnold points out that excellence of poetry lies both in its matter or substance and in its manner or style. But matter and style must have the accent of “high beauty, worth and power.”
8.   If the matter of a poet has truth and high seriousness, the manner and diction would also acquire the accent of superiority, the two are vitally connected together.
9.   Arnold then undertakes a brief review of English poetry from Chaucer to Burn in order to apply practically the general principles laid down above and so to demonstrate their truth. The substances of Chaucer’s poetry—his view of things and his criticism of life—has largeness, freedom, shrewdness, benignity. He surveys the world from a truly human
point of view. But his poetry is wanting in high seriousness. His language, no doubt, causes difficulty, but this difficulty can be easily overcome. Chaucer will be read more and more with the passing of time. But he is not a classic. His poetry lacks the accent of a real classic. This can be easily verified through a comparison of a passage from Chaucer with one from Dante, the first poetic classic of Christendom. This is so because he
has truth of substance but not ‘high seriousness’.
10.  Shakespeare and Milton are our great poetical classics, but Dryden and Pope are not poetical classics. “Dryden was the puissant and glorious founder, and Pope was the splendid high priest, of the age of prose and reason, of our excellent and indispensable 18th century.” But theirs is not the verse of men whose criticism of life has a high seriousness, or, even
without that high seriousness, has poetic largeness, freedom, insight benignity. Their application of ideas to life is not poetic application. They are not classic of English poetry; they are classics of English prose.
11.  The most singular and unique poet of the age of Pope and Dryden is Gray. Gray is a poetic classic, but he is the scantiest of classics. He lived in the company of the great classics of Greece, and he caught their manner, and their view of life. His work is slighter and less perfect than it
would have been, and he lived in a more congenial age.
12.  The poetry of Dryden and Pope is conceived and composed in their wits, genuine poetry is conceived and composed in the soul, Gray’s poetry was composed in the soul.
13.  Next, coming to Burns, Arnold points out that his real merit is to be found in his Scotch poems. In his poetry, we do find the application of ideas to life, and also that this application is a powerful one, made by a man of vigorous understanding and a master of language. He also has
truth of substance. Burns is by far the greater force than Chaucer, though he has less charm. But we do not find in Burns that accent of high seriousness which is born of absolute sincerity, and which characterizes the poetry of the great classics. The poetry of Burns has truth of matter
and truth of manner, but not the accent of the poetic virtue of the highest masters.
14.  Even in the case of Burns, one is likely to be misguided by the personal estimate. This danger is greater in the case of Byron, Shelley and Wordsworth. Estimates of their poetry are likely, not only to be personal, but also, “personal with passion.” So Arnold does not take them up for consideration.
15.  Having illustrated, practically, his touchstone method, Arnold expresses the view that good literature will never lose its currency. There might be some vulgarisation and cheapening of literary values, as a result of the increase in numbers of the common sort of readers, but the currency
of good literature is ensured by, “the instinct of self-preservation in humanity.” So strong is Arnold’s faith in the value of poetry of the highest kind.

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