Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot, in their respective poems, share a sense of alienation, not only from other people but from nature and God as well. Arnold is writing in an age when the place of man in the universe is coming into question, for the first time since the advent of Christianity. He can no longer take the same solace in nature and the love of God that his Romantic predecessors did. While Arnold comments on isolation, however, he still addresses himself to a lover in Dover Beach, whereas Prufrock is presented as a man who has completely retreated within himself. Eliot's isolation is total.
In the industrialized age of Arnold, people no longer were able to look upon nature for inspiration; the unpopulated country of Wordsworth's time was no longer accessible to a centralized people. The increased pace of life and urban crowding obviated the Romantic's luxury of reflection in natural solitude. While the poet observes nature in Dover Beach, the experience is metaphorically useful, but not an end unto itself, nor does it bring any comfort. Rather, Arnold uses the futility that he sees in the ocean's tides to illustrate the fruitlessness of human endeavor. Although the sea appears calm [line 1], beneath the surface there is this almost cruel drama being played out, as the pebbles are dragged and flung by the waves and dragged back again, producing a "grating roar." [lines 9-12] The image of human beings as pebbles on the sand recurs in the third stanza, when Arnold refers to the "Sea of Faith" which has withdrawn and left the rocks exposed as "naked shingles." Eliot later also repudiates t...
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...he colloquial almost instantaneously. Arnold's final paragraph serves a sort of summing-up of Dover Beach as a whole. At the conclusion of Prufrock, Eliot leaps into an apparently tangential thought about mermaids. It's not his job to explain what Prufrock is talking about. Eliot has turned the enigma of modern living into a poem, rather than using his work to provide an answer to the questions that humanity must deal with.
Arnold seems to be mourning for a time past when people could look to faith for answers to questions of import. Eliot acknowledges that those days will never return and instead encourages the reader to apply a personal meaning to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 2. ed. M. H. Abrams New York, London: Norton, 1993.
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