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The Buried Life

May 14, 2011

I don’t quite know where to start with this one, how to do justice to such a breath-taking poem as ‘The Buried Life’ by Matthew Arnold I mean. Essentially, it is a love poem, but it goes deeper than that, digging up what it means to be. What remains of my cutting and pasting is the profound message behind the poem: we too often live in fear of what others think of us.

One thing I love about this poem is its audacity in asking the deep questions we often choose to ignore or bury. What is our “true, original course”? Is there an answer to “the mystery of this heart”?  Where does our life come from and where does it go? How can we find calm amongst “the weariness, the fever and the fret” (Keats) of this world?

I’ve only scratched the surface. Let the poem speak for itself:

I knew the mass of men concealed

Their thoughts, for fear that if revealed

They would by other men be met

With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;

I knew they lived and moved

Tricked [dressed up] in disguises, alien to the rest

Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet

The same heart beats in every human breast!


[…] long we try in vain to speak and act

Our hidden self, and what we say and do

Is eloquent, is well—but ‘tis not true!


The nameless feelings that course through our breast,

[…] course on forever unexpressed


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.

(lines 16-20, 64-66, 62-63 and 45-54)

You can read the rest of the poem here.


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