Discuss about Mathew Arnold’s estimates of various poets.
1. Geoffrey Chaucer:
a. Chaucer’s poetry is superior to the French Roman’s poetry of the 12th and 13th Centuries; but his greatness does not lie in the historical estimate alone. The great superiority of Chaucer’s poetry lies in matter and manner of his poetry. Arnold says that, Dryden was right to comment on the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, “Here is God’s plenty”.
His poetry has truth of substance and is a high criticism of life.
As regards style and manner Chaucer’s diction (use of words) has a divine (heavenly, godlike, great, beautiful) liquidness and there is a divine fluidity of movement.
In Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton and Kids we can follow the tradition of the liquidation and the fluid movement of Chaucer. So, he is called the father of English poetry.
b. After showing so much praise on Chaucer, Arnold comes to the rather surprising conclusion that Chaucer is not a classic because of his poetry lacks high seriousness which Homer’s poetry has, which Dante’s poetry has, which Shakespeare’s poetry has and which, according to Aristotle, is one of the grand virtues of poetry.
2. Shakespeare and John Milton: Shakespeare and Milton are real poetical classic. The real estimate in the case of both these poets is universally accepted.
3. John Dryden and Alexander Pope: John Dryden was the father of English prose and Pope was the high priest of the age of prose and reason of the 18th Century.
4. Thomas Gray (famous for writing Elegy): Thomas Gray does not have the volume or the power of poets who have attained an independent criticism of life. But he caught the poetic viewpoints of great poets and also their poetic manner. The point of view and the manner were not inherent (natural, inborn, essential) him; he caught them from the ancient works of Grice and Rome. He had not the free and abundant (plentiful) use of them; he used them at times. So, Gray is the scantiest and frailest but he is a classic.
5. Robert Burns: Arnold says that he has no command of English and could not express himself freely and well in it. We must therefore look for the real burns in his Scottish/ Scotch poems. But his world is ugly and often repulsive, where we expect a poet to dill with a beautiful world. On the basis of this observation Arnold commends that Burn’s poetry falls short of being a classic because it lacks high seriousness.