The Buried Life

The Buried Life

By Matthew Arnold

Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.

Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

But we, my love!—doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?—must we too be dumb?

Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!

Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be—
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity—
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us—to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves—
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.

And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.

Summary of The Buried Life

  • Popularity of “The Buried Life”: Written by an iconic English poet, critic, and writer of the 19th century, Matthew Arnold, “The Buried Life” is a bit lengthy but full of highly quotable thoughts. The poet has gives full and free expressions to his thoughts about the inner recesses of one’s mind and thoughts and comments on the understanding of the start and end of human life. This effort of giving expressions to inner thoughts has made this poem popular across the globe.
  • “The Buried Life” As a Representative of Expression of Inner Self: The poet expresses his thoughts about the unfathomable depth that the human mind is able to have when he walks around with his friend and they discuss everything under the sun with their “war of mocking words.” This thought makes him sad and yet they continue jesting, mocking, and laughing until he comes to the point that both should be silent for a moment to read the “inmost soul” of each other. This makes the poet quite weak and he knows the voice of his heart that is that they become numb over the thought of how human beings conceal their true selves and true intentions.
    Therefore, he thinks that all should be dumb and deaf fellows. It happens from birth to death as a baby does not know such things but he comes to know them, uses them, and becomes an expert with time until he becomes old. Therefore, the poet says we should not delve deeper into this river to know more about it. The poet comments that this is the situation of the entire humanity and when we come to know about our buried lives, we come to know the reality behind our existence, its origin, and its end.
  • Major Themes in “The Buried Life”: The mystery of the inner thoughts, the situation of the human thoughts, and understanding of reality are the major thematic strands of this poem “The Buried Life.” The poet is of the view that even if we love each other, we make fun of and cut jokes with each other. We smile and laugh with each other, yet we do not know the inner thoughts of our near and dear ones. If we come to know our inner thoughts, we become highly agitated. It is exactly like a child who learns several such things to conceal his thoughts and then become an expert with the passage of time. It is actually the river of life that we come to know when we have access to these inner thoughts and this is the situation for almost everybody else. So, it is the reality that a person comes to know about it when he delves deeper into the human psyche and sees the reality of human existence on this earth.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in The Buried Life

Matthew Arnold used various literary devices in a superb way. Some of the major literary devices are given below.

  1. Alliteration: It means to use initial consonant sounds in successive words. The poet has used several alliterations, such as the sound of /s/ in “soul’s subterranean” or the sound of /w/ in “And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.”
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /e/ in “Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!” and the sound of /o/ in “They would by other men be met.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /b/ and /d/ in “With blank indifference, or with blame reproved” and the sound of /w/ and /r/ in “How he would pour himself in every strife.”
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Matthew Arnold used imagery in this poem, such as “And well-nigh change his own identity”, “The unregarded river of our life” and “Pursue with indiscernible flow its way.”
  5. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet has used the metaphor of a river for life.
  6. Personification: It means to attribute human emotions to inanimate objects. The poet has used the personification of fate as having the power to predict like human beings.
  7. Rhetorical Question: It is a rhetorical device used to stress a point and not get a response. The poem shows several rhetorical questions, such as;
    • To unlock the heart, and let it speak?

    • To one another what indeed they feel?

    • Our hearts, our voices?—must we too be dumb?

  8. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols, such as love, eyes, words, war, physical organs, and soul to show the inner workings of human beings.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in The Buried Life

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows good use of formal, poetic, and spiritual diction.
  2. End Rhyme: It means to use verses having matching end words. Matthew Arnold shows the use of end rhyme, such as yet/wet and roll/soul.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem shows different rhyme scheme in different stanzas such as the first one shows AABCDCDDKEFEB.
  4. Repetition: It means to repeat words or phrases for effects. The poem shows the use of repetition, such as “We know, we know” or “we mean.”
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are six stanzas with each comprising a different number of verses.
  6. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a quizzical, explanatory, rational, and spiritual tone at different places in the poem.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when talking about human life and its reality.

That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.