Matthew Arnold liked looking down at things from a height. While at Rugby, he wrote a Latin poem about climbing in search of knowledge. The Strayed Reveller presents two panoramic views of human life, one seen from Mount Olympus by the gods, and one more painfully imagined by poets. In ‘Resignation’ the poet is a detached observer, who ‘looks down’ on a ‘populous town’ from ‘some high station’. Empedocles contemplates human life from the top of Mount Etna, the ‘Author of Obermann’, from high up in the Alps. In his prose, too, Arnold tends to adopt some form of elevation from which to survey his subject, as if on John Henry Newman’s principle that ‘we must ascend; we cannot gain real knowledge on a level’. He judges contemporary poetry from the standpoint of those ‘highest models of expression’, classical authors.
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