'Philomela' by Matthew Arnold

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Hark! ah, the nightingale--
The tawny-throated!
Hark, from that moonlit cedar what a burst!
What triumph! hark!--what pain!

O wanderer from a Grecian shore,
Still, after many years, in distant lands,
Still nourishing in thy bewilder'd brain
That wild, unquench'd, deep-sunken, old-world pain--

Say, will it never heal?
And can this fragrant lawn
With its cool trees, and night,
And the sweet, tranquil Thames,
And moonshine, and the dew,
To thy rack'd heart and brain
Afford no balm?

Dost thou to-night behold,
Here, through the moonlight on this English grass,
The unfriendly palace in the Thracian wild?
Dost thou again peruse
With hot cheeks and sear'd eyes
The too clear web, and thy dumb sister's shame?
Dost thou once more assay
Thy flight, and feel come over thee,
Poor fugitive, the feathery change
Once more, and once more seem to make resound
With love and hate, triumph and agony,
Lone Daulis, and the high Cephissian vale?
Listen, Eugenia--
How thick the bursts come crowding through the leaves!
Again--thou hearest?
Eternal passion!
Eternal pain!

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Philomela" by Matthew Arnold: A Critical Analysis

Are you a fan of poetry that evokes intense emotions and explores human nature? If so, you're in for a treat with Matthew Arnold's "Philomela." This classic poem tells the story of Philomela, a mythological character who was raped and had her tongue cut out by her brother-in-law. Despite her trauma, she found a way to communicate her pain through her weaving and singing. In this literary criticism, we'll take a closer look at Arnold's use of language, imagery, and themes to unpack the complex emotions and messages in "Philomela."

Language and Structure

Arnold's poetic style is characterized by its musicality, vivid imagery, and use of classical allusions. In "Philomela," he employs iambic tetrameter, a rhythmic pattern that consists of four iambs (a metrical foot consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable) per line. This creates a sense of flow and structure that mimics the weaving and unraveling of Philomela's story.

Arnold's use of language is particularly striking in the way he portrays Philomela's voice. Since she's unable to speak, she communicates through her weaving and singing. Arnold describes her song as "wild and sweet" and "like a bird's." This highlights the power of language and art to express emotions that can't be put into words. Moreover, it reinforces the idea that Philomela's trauma didn't silence her completely, but rather transformed her voice into something different yet equally powerful.


Arnold's use of imagery is another key aspect of "Philomela." He draws on natural and mythological elements to paint a vivid picture of Philomela's world. For example, he describes her weaving as "woven with flowers" and "shining with hues of the sea." This creates a sense of beauty and fragility that contrasts with the violence of her story. It also emphasizes the idea of art as a form of resistance against oppression.

Arnold also uses animal imagery to convey the emotions and actions of the characters. For example, he compares Philomela to a nightingale, a bird known for its beautiful song. This highlights the importance of her voice and its ability to inspire and move others. On the other hand, he portrays Tereus, the rapist, as a "beast" and a "ravening bird." This dehumanizes him and emphasizes his violent and predatory nature.


One of the main themes in "Philomela" is the power of language and art to express and transcend trauma. Despite her silence, Philomela finds a way to communicate her pain through her weaving and singing. This highlights the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of creativity as a form of therapy.

Another theme is the role of gender and power in relationships. Philomela's rape is a clear example of how men can use their physical and social power to oppress and silence women. However, Philomela's story also shows how women can resist and overcome this oppression by finding creative ways to express themselves and connect with others.

Finally, "Philomela" can be read as a commentary on the nature of storytelling and myth-making. By retelling this ancient myth, Arnold brings it to life and makes it relevant to contemporary audiences. Moreover, he invites us to reflect on how stories shape our understanding of the world and ourselves. Do they reinforce oppressive narratives or challenge them? Do they help us heal or perpetuate our traumas?


In conclusion, "Philomela" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of trauma, resilience, gender, power, and storytelling. Arnold's use of language, imagery, and structure create a beautiful and haunting portrait of a mythological character who defies silence and oppression. Whether you're a fan of poetry or not, "Philomela" is a must-read for anyone interested in the complexities of human nature and the power of art to transform and heal.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Philomela: A Masterpiece of Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold, one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era, is known for his profound and insightful poetry. Among his many works, Poetry Philomela stands out as a masterpiece that showcases his poetic genius. This poem is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the power of poetry and its ability to transcend time and space. In this article, we will delve into the depths of this poem and explore its themes, structure, and language.


The central theme of Poetry Philomela is the transformative power of poetry. Arnold uses the myth of Philomela, a woman who was transformed into a nightingale, to illustrate how poetry can transform the mundane into the sublime. Philomela's transformation is a metaphor for the transformative power of poetry, which can take the ordinary and elevate it to the extraordinary. Arnold argues that poetry has the power to transcend time and space, and that it can connect us to the past and the future.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the idea of the poet as a visionary. Arnold portrays the poet as someone who can see beyond the surface of things and into the deeper truths of the world. The poet is someone who can see the beauty in the world and express it in a way that others cannot. The poet is a visionary who can see the world in a way that others cannot, and who can use poetry to share that vision with others.


The structure of Poetry Philomela is simple yet effective. The poem consists of three stanzas, each with four lines. The first stanza sets the scene and introduces the myth of Philomela. The second stanza explores the transformative power of poetry, while the third stanza concludes the poem with a call to action.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB, which gives it a musical quality. The use of rhyme also helps to unify the poem and give it a sense of coherence. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which means that each line has four iambs, or metrical feet. This gives the poem a rhythmic quality that is pleasing to the ear.


Arnold's use of language in Poetry Philomela is masterful. He uses vivid imagery and metaphors to convey his ideas. For example, in the first stanza, he describes Philomela's transformation as "her sweet life-blood / Had strangled and drowned her delicate prime." This image of blood and drowning is both beautiful and haunting, and it sets the tone for the rest of the poem.

Arnold also uses alliteration and assonance to create a musical quality in the poem. For example, in the second stanza, he writes, "And the nightingale's pure voice is ringing / O'er hill and dale and forest wild." The repetition of the "r" and "i" sounds creates a sense of harmony and unity in the poem.


In conclusion, Poetry Philomela is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry that showcases Matthew Arnold's poetic genius. The poem explores the transformative power of poetry and the role of the poet as a visionary. The structure of the poem is simple yet effective, and the language is masterful. Overall, Poetry Philomela is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the power of poetry, and it continues to resonate with readers today.

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