The Political Sonnet

  • Joseph Phelan

Abstract

Matthew Arnold’s response to the French Revolution of 1848 was articulated in part through a pair of sonnets addressed ‘To a Republican Friend’, the friend in question being his close confidant and poetic rival Arthur Hugh Clough. The first of these sonnets expresses a mild if not entirely convincing enthusiasm for the general aims of the revolution, while the second voices an altogether more detached and sceptical view of events:
  • Yet, when I muse on what life is, I seem

  • Rather to patience prompted, than that proud

  • Prospect of hope which France proclaims so loud —

  • France, famed in all great arts, in none supreme;

  • Seeing this vale, this earth, whereon we dream,

  • Is on all sides o’ershadowed by the high

  • Uno’erleaped Mountains of Necessity,

  • Sparing us narrower margin than we deem.

  • Nor will that day dawn at a human nod,

  • When, bursting through the network superposed

  • By selfish occupation — plot and plan,

  • Lust, avarice, envy — liberated man,

  • All difference with his fellow-mortal closed,

  • Shall be left standing face to face with God.

Keywords

Sonal Univer Alan Metaphor Verse 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    H.F. Lowry ed., The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough (OUP, 1968), p. 64 (Arnold’s emphasis).Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Miles Taylor, Ernest Jones, Chartism, and the Romance of Politics 1819–1869 (OUP, 2003), p. 80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 10.
    Anne Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition (CUP, 1998), p. 154.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    Kingsley, ‘Thoughts on Shelley and Byron’, from Literary and General Lectures and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1890); Google Scholar
  5. Cited in Natalie M. Houston, ‘Reading the Victorian Souvenir: Sonnets and Photographs of the Crimean War’, Yale Journal of Criticism 14 (2001), 374. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. For a history of the ‘Spasmodic’ controversy see Mark A. Weinstein, William Edmondstone Aytoun and the Spasmodic Controversy (New Haven: Yale UP, 1968).Google Scholar
  7. 25.
    Letter of 12 January 1888; see Catherine Phillips ed., The Oxford Authors: Gerard Manley Hopkins (OUP, 1986), p. 271.Google Scholar
  8. 26.
    Hopkins distinguishes between the paraphrasable content of a poem and what he calls its ‘underthought’; the latter is ‘conveyed chiefly in the choice of metaphors etc used and often only half realised by the poet himself’ (cited in Sjaak Zonneveld, The Random Grim Forge: A Study of Social Ideas in the Work of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Maastricht: Van Gorcum, Assen, 1992), p. 115).Google Scholar
  9. 27.
    Dennis Hardy, Alternative Communities in Nineteenth-Century England (London and New York: Longman, 1979), p. 79.Google Scholar
  10. 29.
    John Ruskin, Unto this Last (London: George Allen, 1898), pp. 100–2 (ch. 3, no. 54)Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Cited in John Lucas, ‘Hopkins and Symons: Two Views of the City’ in John Stokes ed., Fin de Siècle/Fin du Globe: Fears and Fantasies of the Late Nineteenth Century (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1992), p. 57. The battle of Majuba Hill took place in 1881; British troops secured a hill overlooking their Boer adversaries, but through a combination of overconfidence and poor planning allowed the Boers to retake it and capture many of their number; Google Scholar
  12. see Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa (London: Abacus, 1991), pp. 101–6.Google Scholar
  13. 36.
    Michael R.G. Spiller. The Sonnet Sequence: A Study of its Strategies (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997), p. 9; see Zonneveld, Random Grim Forge, pp. 115–7 for an account of the poem’s composition.Google Scholar
  14. 43.
    Cited in Teresa Newman and Ray Watkinson, Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelite Circle (London: Chatto and Windus, 1991), p. 117. There is also an odd resemblance between this poem and the closing lines of Wordsworth’s sonnet on Charles II, one of the Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822): ‘Away, Circean revels!/But for what gain? if England soon must sink/Into a gulf which all distinction levels -/That bigotry may swallow the good name,/And, with that draught, the life-blood; misery, shame,/By Poets loathed; from which Historians shrink!’Google Scholar
  15. 50.
    Robert Bernard Martin, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life (London: HarperCollins, 1991), pp. 217–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Joseph Patrick Phelan 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Phelan

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