The Last Word – Matthew Arnold – Analysis

The Last Word

Creep into thy narrow bed,
Creep, and let no more be said!
Vain thy onset! all stands fast.
Thou thyself must break at last.

Let the long contention cease!
Geese are swans, and swans are geese.
Let them have it how they will!
Thou art tired; best be still.

They out-talk’d thee, hiss’d thee, tore thee?
Better men fared thus before thee;
Fired their ringing shot and pass’d,
Hotly charged – and sank at last.

Charge once more, then, and be dumb!
Let the victors, when they come,
When the faults of folly fall,
Find thy body by the wall!

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

I don’t know whether this was the last poem that Matthew Arnold wrote but it is the last poem in the set of poems recorded against his name in my ‘The Harvard Classics’ edition.

S1 – well we all have to break sometime … leave the world that is … creep (go slowly) into your narrow bed (perhaps a link to that wooden box which awaits) … and it’s a bit silly if we ever thought we were going to change the world, all stands fast … we have no choice but to break.

S2 – Geese are swans, and swans are geese … well, you would have to be a goose not to know the difference, however there are some people who never learn – no matter how hard you try to educate – so unfortunately you must accept that others may always be a bit of a goose and not understand reality, not know the truth, not know the beauty of the swan – so there is a plea not to continue to try to make others understand, suggesting you are tired and maybe you need that rest … and indeed you will have no choice but to be very still!

S3 – they hiss’d thee – well if they are a bit of a goose this is an apt statement … and if it is any comfort others better than you have tried and failed – they sank like a drowning, appropriate considering swans are always seen with water

S4 – OK have one more attempt, one more charge at trying to make them see that swans are swans – but they the ‘victors’ with their faults of folly and will find your body by the wall – the wall that they have created in not letting your message get through

Of course you may not agree with all the sentiments expressed by this poem and I am sure that you will leave the world a better place! – but realistically there will always be some who you’ve tried to influence that have never heeded the message you wanted to convey.

2 thoughts on “The Last Word – Matthew Arnold – Analysis

  1. with regard to the last verse of ‘the last word’ , you seem to have misread that bit of the poem. I don’t know where ‘the faults of folly’ came from. Certainly not the pen of Matthew Arnold!

    • … certainly not from the pen of Matthew Arnold … the ‘faults of folly’ are perhaps from those approaching the wall … you can almost hear the footsteps with the phrase – ‘let the faults of folly fall’… and there is no choice now but to let the faults of folly fall

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