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Eng112 Abandonment Essay

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Allison Dimino

8 April 2019

ENG 112-08


        Matthew Arnold was a British writer born in Laleham, United Kingdom on December 24, 1822. He is still famous today for the same reason that the Victorian Age is still relevant in today’s time. Arnold was surrounded by British superiority and he refused to be happy with the accomplishments of the Englishmen in the nineteenth-century. According to Park Honan, a biographer, when Arnold was only six months old, he was considered bad tempered by his father because he would not be still in his crib. For the rest of Arnold’s life, critics complained about his refusal to be still and satisfied with the achievements of the British. His father, Thomas Arnold, owned a smaller school in Laleham where Matthew attended six years. Arnold was drawn into his school work and took it very seriously. Because of this, he was able to stay at his parents home with private tutors. Matthew attended Winchester for a year along with his brother Tom in 1836. However, he only stayed a year to go attend Rugby in 1837.  Three years later he had already received academic recognition by winning the Rugby Poetry prize for his work “Alaric at Rome.” In 1840, he also had won two classical Open Balliol Scholarships. At this time, Arnold lost his focus in his studies and was occupied by drinking and having fun until his father died of a heart attack on June 12, 1842. Following his fathers death, Matthew felt as if he was on a mission passed down from his father except for the fact that he was still slacking in school. After earning only second class honors in 1844, he earned a fellowship in Oxford at Oriel College in 1845. At twenty-four years old he stopped working at Oxford and worked temporarily at Rugby as an assistant master. He then accepted a position in London as secretary to the president of the Privy Council named Lord Landsdowne. While working in this position, Arnold wrote some of his most known poems (Edwards). In 1883 and 1886, Arnold toured the United States to lecture and then later died in Liverpool on April 15, 1888 ( His early poems display the theme of love. In Matthew Arnold’s work routinely examined, the exploration of the theme abandonment can be observed in both “The Forsaken Merman” and “To Marguerite Continued.”

“The Forsaken Merman,” published in 1849, was an elegiac poem telling the story of a merman who loved the mother of his children who later abandoned him. “The Forsaken Merman” is in the structure of a speech from the merman to his children. This poem displays the characteristics of musical quality, repetition of phrases, and simple language showing simple feelings (Subramanian). The 143 line lyrical poem is about a merman who is devastated over the abandonment of his wife Margaret. As the poem evolves, the conflict of paganism and Victorian Christianity shows (Merman Analysis). Throughout Arnold’s life he convinced himself that Margaret was imaginary when in actuality his poem was inspired by a real woman named Mary Claude who Arnold fell in love with in 1848. Mary Claude apparently did not support Arnold’s dreams and their love story ended in 1849. Arnold used his real love life to depict his feelings of abandonment in this poem (Edwards). Margaret had spent many years under the sea with her husband happy and living a great life according to the lines: “Where the winds are all asleep; Where the spent lights quiver and gleam, Where the sea-beasts, ranged all around, Where the sea-snakes coil and twine, Where great whales come sailing by,” When Easter came around and she heard the church bells ring, she felt as if it was a calling for her religious work. She says, “I must go, for my kinsmen pray/ In the little grey church on the shore today.‘Twill be Easter-time in the world—ah me!/And I lose my poor soul, Merman, here with thee.” She felt that it was vital for her to leave. The merman let her leave thinking she would only be gone for a short time. He says, “I said, ‘Go up, dear heart, through the waves;/ Say thy prayer, and come back to the kind sea-caves!” The wife never returns. The merman begins to lose track of time repeating to the children, “Children dear, was it yesterday?” The merman feels that it is not normal for a mother to leave her children. He is in so much distraught that he is even unsure of how long she has been gone: “She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay./ Children dear, was it yesterday?” He goes as far as taking the children and going to see her.  The merman shouts, “Margaret, hist! Come quick, we are here! Dear heart,” I said, “we are long alone;” This line depicts how lonely the merman feels and how lost he is without her (Merman Analysis). He brings the children to use them as bait in hopes that the wife would come back. When the father and children get to the village they see her in a house where she is at a spinning wheel. She is singing, “O joy, O joy,/ For the humming street, and the child with its toy!/ For the priest, and the bell, and the holy well. . . .” When they first see her she appears to be happy, but they observe her closely. She stops working and looks across the sand at the sea, longing to be with her family that she left behind as she utters, “A long, long sigh;/ For the cold strange eyes of a little Mermaiden/ And the gleam of her golden hair.” Before they leave the village, he has the children call for her over and over until and eventually he says, “Come away, children, call no more!” The merman knows now that it will just be him and his children under the sea singing to her, “Here came a mortal/ But faithless was she!/ And alone dwell for ever/ The kings of the sea.” This is when he realizes that Margaret is not returning for good and he really has been abandoned. He has been forsaken and is no longer in denial about it anymore. Arnold also portrays abandonment and isolation as lifeless because he describes the ocean as having color while everything on land has no color. The narrator says that Margaret and the merman king sat on a “red gold throne in the heart of the sea,” and it is, remarkably, a “green sea.” When Margaret says she must leave, she  describes the church as “the little gray church on the shore.” The merman repeats this same sentence later on. The church does not have windows that are colored but only “small leaded panes.” The speaker talks about taking the children to “the white-walled town” and says that they would take regular visits to the shore to stare “At the white, sleeping town.” The speaker repeats “white” and “gray,” describing how lifeless the town is (Merman Analysis).



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