Hindu Fables and Mathew Arnold! (Post No.5335)

Written by London swaminathan

Date: 18 August 2018


Time uploaded in London – `17-08  (British Summer Time)


Post No. 5335


Pictures shown here are taken from various sources including google, Wikipedia, Facebook friends and newspapers. This is a non- commercial blog.



Hitopadesa owing to its intrinsic merit, is one of the most popular works in Sanskrit literature. The following stanzas dealing with the transitoriness of human life near the end of Book IV have a peculiar pensive beauty of their own:-

As on the mighty oceans waves
Two floating logs together come
And having met for ever part:
So briefly joined are living things

These lines are the source of Mathew Arnold’s beautiful lines in his poem The Terrace at Berne:-


Like driftwood spars which meet and pass

Upon the boundless ocean-plain,

So on the sea of life, alas!

Man nears man, meets, and leaves again.


I knew it when my life was young,

I feel it still, now youth is o’er!

The mists are on the mountains hung,

And Marguerite I shall see no more.

Source— page 159, Is Hindu A Superior reality



It is an example for Great Men think Like!


Nachinarkiniar, the greatest of the Tamil commentators, who, following the example of  Adi Shankara, wrote a number of commentaries on almost all the books of Tamil Sangam period, also used this drifting wood imagery. He compares two woods with holes in two different oceans coming together and joining and fixing. This is like the probability theory.



Now look at the life history of Mathew Arnold


Mathew Arnold
English poet and critic
Born on December 24,1822
Died on April 15, 1888
Age at death 65


1849 The Strayed Reveller
1852 Empedocles on Etna
1853 Poems
1861 On Translating Homer
1865 Essays in Criticism first series
1867 New Poems
1869 Culture and Anarchy
1871 Friendship’s Garland
1875 God and The Bible
1888 Essays in Criticism, second series

Mathew Arnold was a leading Victorian poet and critic who believed art served a moral purpose.

Arnold was born near London and went to Rugby school. His father, Thomas Arnold, the school principal, was famous for reforming teaching on firm Christian lines. Arnold studied at Oxford university and at 28, he became an inspector of schools, a post he held until retiring 35 years later. Also at 25, he married Frances Wightman. They lived at Laleham near London. Sadly, three out of their six children only outlived their father.

Mathew Arnold was 26 when his first book of poetry appeared. The Strayed Leveller was surprisingly gloomy and thoughtful from a man his friends had believed not to be serious. He wrote in an age when people were losing their religious beliefs and wondering what really mattered in life. Many of Arnold s verses are about people feeling lonely and confused. His longest and may be best poem Empedocles on Etna tells of an Ancient Greek philosopher driven by self-doubt to suicide. Arnold used such character s to explore his own fears and uncertainties.

Between the ages of 34 and 44 Arnold held the mainly unpaid post of professor of poetry at Oxford university. He wrote critical essays that praise Ancient Greek and Roman authors and proclaim the noble purpose of art. In Culture and Anarchy, he argued that culture could save society from depending on material possessions for happiness. In Essays in Criticism he argued for poetry to replace religion as the way to show people how to lead a good life.

Xxxx Subham xxxxx

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  1. It is nice to be reminded of Matthew Arnold. In his time, he was regarded mainly as a critic, rather than a poet. But his poetry is being increasingly appreciated now. He did not write poetry for entertainment, but edification. He lived during transitional times, and grew sensitive to the many deep problems and critical issues. The rising rationalism had displaced simple
    religious (Christian)faith ( thanks to Darwin.) The theologians had hardened and misinterpreted the intuitive language of the Bible. Like the Romantics before him (Wordsworth and Co) , he turned away from organised religion, while stressing morality. He could not totally shrug off the influence of scepticism which ruled the day (which in modern times has degenerated to existentialism and nihilism.) In his quest for a solution, he turned to many sources like Goethe, the ancient Classics, the Stoic philosophy. Like Emerson, he turned to Bhagavad Gita too. All these influences are reflected in his poetry.

    He perceived ” the upper classes to be materialized, the middle classes to be vulgarized and the lower classes to be brutalized.” In the circumstances, he wanted poetry to display a “wholeness” and that it should embody “high seriousness” and “profound application of ideas to life.” Thus, poetry was not for mere entertainment. The romantics turned to a MYstical Nature , instead of religion. Mathew Arnold expected serious minded poetry to fill that role.

    The ‘sea of life’ is an image which recurs in his poetry. This reminds us of Hindu ‘Samsara Sagara ‘. Compared to the vastness of the ocean and its unmeasured depth, man is perceived to be alone and all his associations on earth are temporary! Of course, the Hindu view is more profound, philosophically.

    150 years down the line, India is experiencing all those trends which confronted Matthew Arnold in his day. Traditional India is fast disappearing. More than 50% of Indians are under 25 years of age, and due to the Macaulay scheme of education which they go through are thoroughly disengaged from Indianness and becoming Westernised morons. The middle class is immersed in consumerism, and the lower classes are following them, and there is virtually no upper class, except the money bags, who make a vulgar show of their wealth. The mindless and indiscriminate adoption of so called high tech in all spheres of life is robbing people of their quiet and privacy. Man is so much taken up with gadgets and govt. routines, he has no time to think of himself or higher things. Even the countryside is being sucked into the vortex of commercialism. Matthew ARnold’s poetry holds special lessons for such times and such people. But alas, so few read poetry now! Literacy is spreading, true education is declining!

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