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To Marguerite: Continued by Matthew Arnold, Summary & Analysis

To Marguerite: Continued by Matthew Arnold 

by Mohamed Zayed

Yes! in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
The islands feel the enclasping flow,
And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,
And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour—

Oh! then a longing like despair
Is to their farthest caverns sent;
For surely once, they feel, we were
Parts of a single continent!
Now round us spreads the watery plain—
Oh might our marges meet again!

Who order'd, that their longing's fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cool'd?
Who renders vain their deep desire?—
A God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.

This poem was written by the great Victorian poet Matthew Arnold. 'To Marguerite' may refer to an unfulfilled love relationship which the poet once had.  This poem is written in iambic tetrameter. The underlying idea of “To Marguerite—Continued” is simple: Every human being lives his or her life in isolation like separate islands. The first stanza introduces the poem’s basic metaphor: Life is a boundless sea; people are all separate islands in it. Humans are conscious of their predicament—“feeling” and “knowing” that something separates them from other persons. And yet these islands are drawn to one another, through the lovely sounds of birds singing, sounds which drift between the islands. The speaker expresses his desire for connection, which modern society lacks. He suggests that we must have once been together - all the "islands" must have once been one "continent." He desperately wishes that the water between the islands would recede so that the landforms might meet again.

In the final stanza, he asks what power could possibly keep lovers apart like this, and "render vain their deep desire." The answer, he states, is God — the God of the modern world does not provide the same hope and connection that He once did, since much of faith is tainted by science. It is likely that this poem was Arnold's response to the famous line from John Donne's "No man is an island, but a piece of the continent."      The undercurrent of the poem is a scepticism in scientific discovery. We have traded faith for separation. In stanza 2, Arnold uses metaphors of nightingales, starry nights, and "lovely notes" to illustrate the connection between people. Overall, the poem espouses an extremely pessimistic worldview, one that acknowledges the potential for human connection, but then express frustration that the fire of love will be cooled. 

As for images, visual images are dominant wherein we can see people isolated like separate islands and we also can see the lights of the moon. Also, auditory images are found in the singing of the nightingale. All of these images provide a live, vivid photo of the beautiful life and nature that humans are missing as a result of their isolation. 


  1. NIce,clear and transparent explanation of the background and the meaning of the particular stanzas as well as their role in the poem. Nice work. Keep going. and A LARGE THANKS TO YOU.

  2. Glad it helped. I will do more. Thank you for your support.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing .