“Poetry as criticism of life” and Functions of poetry and criticism by Mathew Arnold and his Touchstone Method
This well known statement; “Poetry is criticism of life” is given by the twentieth century’ ‘first modern critic’ and English poet Mathew Arnold in his essay titled Study of Poetry; the same essay in which he has given his concept of Touchstone method. In the words of Arnold “Poetry is criticism of life which is governed by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty.” He explains that the truth should lie in the matter and manner of the poetry and its diction and style should also be superior to mark its truth and beauty. Poetry should reflect life in its true essence.
He pointed that poetry should be written and presented with the right aim of purpose and ideas of life. According to Arnold poetry should not always be written just for the pleasure and aesthetic creative beauty but the real intend of the poetry should be to present the constructive and genuine criticism of life. It must talk about the virtues and vices of the society and its people. Poetry should be the guiding light of knowledge and wisdom.
He says that poetry alone can be the sustenance in the era when religious and social beliefs are losing their hold. He claims that poetry is superior to philosophy, science and religion because it acts as the mirror of society and life and also it presents a very sound and reliable illustration of the life and its problems and ideas without any attempt of adulterating any aspect of it.
He also calls poetry as the “breath and finer spirit of knowledge.” He calls poetry as concoction of supreme thoughts and command crated to illuminate the path of the humankind. He says that the idea and the theme of the poetry should be pertinent to the lives and problems of the people and should not be dealing with the superficial thoughts having no connection with the life and people According to Mathew Arnold after a short span of time all mankind will be able to discover and understand the importance of poetry and we all will have to turn to poetry to get the correct and required interpretation of life and also to be able to learn about how to live a sustainable and meaningful life illuminated with knowledge and wisdom.
By quoting various authors like Gothe, Arnold says that the particular age suffers from great spiritual, social and moral weakness because it is thriving only on individualized self interest and scientific materialism that’s is why it cannot provide the noble ideal characteristics such as those which are found in classic literatures like in works of Gothe.
Arnold urges the modern writers to look and imitate the ancient works and there themes which possess pathos, moral profundity and noble simplicity.
“For poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotions to the idea; the idea is fact.”
He explains that the truth should lie in the matter and manner of the poetry and its diction and style should also be superior to mark its truth and beauty. Poetry should reflect life in its true essence.
According to Arnold criticism should not be written just for the pleasure and aesthetic creative beauty but the real intend of the poetry and criticism should be to present the constructive and genuine explanation of the work taken for literary criticism.
Mathew Arnold talks about the three different methods used by critics to analyze any work in order to estimate its quality. These estimates are; ‘real estimate’, ‘historic estimate’ and ‘personal estimate.’ Arnold says that a good critic always stays away from historic and personal estimate and judges any work only by the unbiased real estimate.
Mathew Arnold who is also called the critic’s critic has also devised a technique or measure called touchstone method to analyze poetry and its standards. According to Arnold another important function of criticism is that it should not be done just by analyzing any work’s single line, part or image but in order to decide its quality one needs to emphasize on the complete poem or literary text.
Mathew Arnold who is known as the first modern critic and also called the critic’s critic has devised this technique or measure called touchstone method to analyze poetry and its standards. In literary criticism the term touchstone was introduced by him in his essay titled Study of Poetry.
According to this method, in order to judge a author or poet’s work properly and to determine the relative value of their passage or poem a critic should compare them with the short but distinctive passages taken from the works of the greatest poets or masters of poetry and these passages should be applied as “Touchstone” or guiding reference to the passage or poetry. Basically it is a comparative method of criticism used to test the merits of contemporary poetic or prose work. Touchstone is basically a standard used for comparing and judging works of prose and poetry.
Mathew Arnold mentioned four major writers whose works could be used as “Touchstone” by the modern poets to judge their works. These four writers are Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. Not only the authors to be followed but at the same time Arnold also mentioned various specific passages to be used as specimen like the example of Helen’s speech about her wounded brother in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. While discussing about Touchstone method Mathew Arnold also talks about Chaucer that he lacks the ‘high seriousness’ and all the other required traits to be considered as a classic poet. Arnold also forbids poets from using the works of Chaucer as a touchstone for evaluating the quality of their own works.
The touchstones mentioned by Mathew Arnold are basically lines and expressions selected from the works of the great classic poets and authors to be used as measuring scale of quality by the modern contemporary poets.