Question: Discuss the characteristic features of good poetry.


Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) is a prominent English poet and critic of the twentieth century. He has brought a revolution to the world of English literature with his critical essays, prose, and poetry. As poetry is a high-quality literary work that shows deep feelings with beauty and elegance, it should be written following a number of organized requirements.

Features of good poetry

According to Arnold, high-quality poetry contains the following features.

  1. Criticism of life
  2. The poetic truth and poetic beauty
  3. And maintenance of grand style or high seriousness.

The criticism of life

Poetry cannot be good without having the criticism of life since Matthew Arnold has declared the high position of poetry. The term “criticism of life” means the proper interpretation of life. Poetry accurately explains life. Arnold defines poetry as a critique of life. To put it differently, poetry must concern itself with life and the problems of life. Ideas, topics, and themes of poetry should be relevant to people’s lives. It should not be remote in a way that does not directly connect to our lives. Therefore, Arnold asserts:

“….to take specimens of the poetry of the high, the very highest quality, and to say:

the characters of a high quality of poetry are what is expressed there.”

Thus, Arnold provides guidelines like Aristotle that if the topics, ideas, and themes of poetry are not relevant to life, “Criticism of Life” will be completely absent. The criticism of life is further explained by Arnold as “a noble and profound application of ideas.” The greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life.

Poetic truth and poetic beauty

Poetic truth and poetic beauty are the souls of poetry. They are so vital that a poet cannot imagine his poetical success without them.

“But for supreme poetical success more is required than the powerful application of ideas to life;

it must be an application under the conditions fixed, by the laws of poetic beauty and poetic truth.”

By poetic truth, Arnold means the representation of life in a true way, and by poetic beauty, he refers to the manner and style of poetry. The subject-matter of the best poem is characterized by truth, and seriously to a certain degree. The manner is characterized by the superiority of diction and of movement. So, the matter and style must have an accent of high beauty. Arnold does not, however, determine what this accent is. He says that we will feel it for ourselves. By such expression, Arnold suggests that if a poet wants to be a classic, he has to be creative by the application of his own diction and movement.

Arnold states that the qualities of truth and seriousness that elevate poetry are inseparable from the excellence of diction and movement. If the matter of a poet has truth and high seriousness, the manner and diction also achieve a superior accent.

High seriousness

The laws of the poetic truth and poetic beauty insist on the condition of “high seriousness” in poetry. This is the quality that gives poetry its power and strength. It comes from absolute sincerity that the poet feels for his subject. A poet’s sincerity consists of his speaking because when the readers can feel the sincerity of the poet about his subject-matter, it is sure that he speaks from his very inmost soul. The quality of high seriousness is found in the poetry of Dante, Homer, and Milton. It is the power of sincerity that gives poets the power to interpret life properly.


To sum up, we can say that truth, high seriousness, a powerful application of ideas to life, absolute sincerity, the excellence of diction, and movement in the matter of style, are the essential requirements of great poetry. And we also understand that Matthew Arnold had a broad idea about criticism and poetry.

Click here: For all the notes of Literary Criticism

Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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