Fact, Myth and Legend in Matthew Arnold’s Westminster Abbey
Keywords:Matthew Arnold, Arthur Stanley, elegy, eulogy, Victorian poetry, Philistinism, poetic metaphor
The paper deals with the multilayered elegy “Westminster Abbey;” which was not given a lot of attention by Matthew Arnold’s critics. The poem is dedicated to Arnold’s life-long friend Dean Stanley; who was; like Arnold himself; “a child of light.” The term refers to their common fight against Philistinism in the English society of the time. As the poem is about a real person; it contains real data; such as excerpts from Stanley’s life; described in the form of praise. However; the poem also introduces the old Saxon legend of consecration of the Abbey; namely the consecration by the light; performed by the First Apostle (St Peter) himself. In addition to the legend; Arnold also used some classical Greek allusions to depict the late Dean’s character. In one of the allusions; Stanley is associated with Demophon; whose immortality was never achieved due to the fault of another human; and in the second he is transformed into an everlasting oracle of the Abbey using the Trophonius; a builder of Delphi; metaphor. All elements of the poem form a homogenous eulogy; making it worthwhile reading for English scholars and students; and possibly a candidate for the English poetic canon.
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