Table of Contents
“In Harmony With Nature” is a poem written by Matthew Arnold. Consisting of a deceptive title, it revolves around the poet’s negative perception of nature.
About the Poet:
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) was an English poet. He is also a British critic. Famous works of his include “Dover Beach”, “The Scholar Gipsy”, and “Thyrisis”.
This poem is divided into 4 stanzas consisting of 4 lines each. It follows the simple rhyme scheme ‘abba’.
Explanation of the Stanzas:
To a preacher
‘In harmony with Nature?’ Restless fool, Who with such heat dost preach what were to thee, When true, the last impossibility— To be like Nature strong, like Nature cool!
The poem begins with the persona directly addressing a “preacher”. It starts off with a mocking tone, deeming it impossible for Man to be in harmony with Nature. The persona, in fact, calls the preacher a “Restless fool” for him stating the same. The persona deems the harmony of Man and Nature to be “the last impossibility” and that man can never aspire to be as “strong” and “cool” as Nature.
Know, man hath all which Nature hath, but more, And in that more lie all his hopes of good. Nature is cruel, man is sick of blood; Nature is stubborn, man would fain adore;
Here, the persona asserts that man possesses everything Nature does and “more” – this “more” being Man’s “hopes of good”. This of course implies that Nature does not possess within it any goodness or hopes. Rather, the persona asserts that “Nature is cruel” and “Nature is stubborn” while insisting that Man is quite the opposite– he is “sick of blood” and finds it in his nature only to “adore”.
Nature is fickle, man hath need of rest; Nature forgives no debt, and fears no grave; Man would be mild, and with safe conscience blest.
The dichotomy present previously prevails in this stanza as well. While Man is already tired and in “need of rest”, the persona declares that Nature is “fickle”, “forgives no debt”, and “fears no grave”. Thus, the persona once again paints nature as cruel, unforgiving, and reckless as opposed to Man who is “mild” and who is blessed with a “safe conscience”.
Man must begin, know this, where Nature ends; Nature and man can never be fast friends. Fool, if thou canst not pass her, rest her slave!
The final stanza concludes with a rather cautionary tone. The persona warns for Man to understand that he “begins” only “where Nature ends”. They also firmly state that “Nature and man can never be fast friends”. The ending line brings out how the persona views those who cannot “pass her” and remain for the rest of their lives “her slave” is– like the preacher– a “Fool”.
This is a rather controversial poem. It presents Nature as a formidable adversary, painting mankind, in contrast, with unrealistic mildness and gentleness.