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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Introduction to Part II


This world's no blot for us,

Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:

To find its meaning is my meat and drink.

“Ay, but you don't so instigate to prayer!”

Strikes in the Prior: “when your meaning's plain

It does not say to folk – remember matins,

Or, mind you fast next Friday!” Why, for this

What need of art at all?

Robert Browning, “Fra Lippo Lippi” (1855)

W. B. Yeats famously asserted of Victorian poetry, “My generation, because it disliked Victorian rhetorical moral fervour, came to dislike all rhetoric. In France, where there was a similar movement, a poet had written, ‘Take rhetoric and wring its neck.’” Yeats had some grounds for associating Victorian poetry with rhetoric. For example, “Dover Beach” (1867), Matthew Arnold's famous meditation on the relation of erotic love to human mortality and uncertainty, has seemed forced to some readers. Walt Whitman objected to Arnold as a “dude of literature,” and the poem's diction has seemed unnecessarily fine to others. In this context “rhetoric” signifies inflated language and unearned ponderousness. Having contrasted the waves' constant breaking on shore to a steadily ebbing “sea of faith” in prior stanzas, Arnold's speaker concludes,

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.


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