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The Last Word

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by

Brett Stevenson

on 4 November 2014

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Transcript of The Last Word

The Last Word
Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold was born in Middlesex in 1822 and died in 1888.He went to a prestigious High School called the Rugby School, where his father was headmaster.
Nice Facial Hair!
The Poem
This poem is very clearly about arguing. More specifically, it is about being in a vain argument. It is simply trying to say that a person should leave an argument when there is no way to win.The "long contention" must cease even if we have to yield to other people's irrationality. Arnold cautions us that "better men" than ourselves have been in the same position; braver men who have "fired their ringing shot" and still been "sunk."The references to "forts of folly" and the "body by the wall" depict this battle as a siege, where the righteous few challenge the proud citadel of the many. Lets see a more in depth interpretation.
Poetic Devices Present
The Poem
Our Opinion on the Meaning
The meaning of the poem can be taken in two major ways. Perhaps it is meant to say that vain arguments should be left as they are, and to leave them be before you humiliate yourself. Truth is so much more important than being clever or powerful; and the real hero is the one who has the quiet confidence to turn the other cheek.
First we can see that there is a ryhming scheme that goes line by line. There is also a fair bit of repetition. Several words are reused over and over. Repetition is very important in this poem because it emphasizes the point he is trying to make very well. There is also alliteration in the end when he says when the Forts of folly fall. FFFF. Besides these there is pretty good description throughout and a good sense of vocabulary.
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 forts of folly fall,
Find thy body by the wall!
Words like geese, thee,
swan, and creep are used
often. Help the structure.
The Rhyme Scheme can be seen easily here. It is never broken. It is AABB.
The meter is constant besides the first line of stanza 3. This could be used to show the line should be rushed or to emphasize it.
He was the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. Arnold became the first professor to lecture in English rather than Latin. During this time Arnold wrote his most famous critical works, Essays in Criticism (1865) and Culture and Anarchy (1869).
Interpretation
More on Matthew Arnold
Resemblence to Another Poem in Class
The Last Word can be connected with Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth for multiple reasons. Both of them have a rhyme scheme that at some points in the poem follows the AABB scheme that The Last Word follows. An important theme in both of these poems is individualism, and that is especially stressed in The Solitary Reaper. The words that she was singing are almost irrelevant just like in The Last Word. The argument is irrelevant as well. They also both use descriptive language.
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 forts of folly fall,
Find thy body by the wall!
The first stanza comes off like a parent or father telling his child to go to sleep. He then states how whatever the child just did was in vain, most likely an argument. He then states that you must break yourself at last. This most likely is him saying he has to break from his own temptation of continuing the argument.
The next stanza begins once again with the father like figure asking their child figure to cease fighting. A repetitive message made to probably emphasize the point. The message "geese are swans and swans are geese" is a hard to interpret line. It could perhaps be about how both people in an argument are just that, people. One and the same. The next line is simply telling a person to feel like they won so they stop contesting you. Anyone who takes pleasure in winning such vain arguments are not worth your time. Then he simply tells the child figure to sleep, as the issue has left them tired.
He then points out how the child lost this. They outspoke the listener and injured their pride. He claims that better people had voiced the same argument before the listener and also lost. They fought valiently and may have made a point, but they still lost. "Sank at last" most likely means that these other men eventually faded into obscurity and no longer mattered.
"Charge once more, then, and be dumb!" seems to be saying that if the listener does go on to continue the vain argument, they will be seen as a fool. The next two lines explain how the listener should let the victors realize the folly of their entire endeavor and how worthless it all became. But he also points out in the last line that if the listener continues, there will be but only one casualty, which would be the listener.
Stanza By Stanza Analysis
Analyzed By: Brett Stevenson and Sean Miller
narrow-good vocab
Full transcript