In the nineteenth century, poets and writers made duty an important topic for writing poems and articles. Wordsworth (1770/1850), Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Samuel Smiles (1812-1904), wrote vociferously on the importance of duty in life. Wordsworth wrote ‘Ode to Duty’, emphasizing the role of duty in regulating the life of an individual. Throughout the ode, the poet laid stress on action and duty:

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!

O Duty! if that name thou love

Who art a light to guide, a rod

To check the erring, and reprove;

Thou, who art victory and law

When empty terrors overawe;

From vain temptations dost set free;

And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity! -1


Not only did Wordsworth underline the importance of duty in life but also glorified the character of those who were exclusively devoted to duty such as Leach-Gatherer, Michael, etc. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was probably the most vigorous advocate of the importance of duty in his age. The central message of most of his writings, such as ‘Sartor Resartus’ (1832), ‘French Revolution’, ‘Hero and Hero Worship’ etc., is-‘Work is Worship’. In ‘Sartor Resartus’, Carlyle writes:


“Do the Duty, which lies nearest thee; which thou knowest to be a Duty. They second Duty will already have become clearer.” -2

He further exhorts forcefully:

“Up, up’. Whatsoever they have findeth to do, do it, with thy whole might, work while it is called Today’. For the night cometh, wherein no man can work.” -3

Besides, Carlyle also closely echoes the crux of the preaching’s of the Bhagavad -Gita, — disinterestedness in the reward of duty–in the following lines, extracted from this lecture on the ‘Hero as Poet’:

“It is not by what is called their effect on the world, by what we can judge of their effect there that a man and his work are measured. Effect/ Influence? Utility? Let a man do his work; the fruit of it is the care of Another than he.”

Another popular writer of the age, Samuel Smiles, (1812-1904) who now is forgotten, too wrote extensively on duty. His work ‘Self-Help’ (1859) was sold by the thousands and was translated into seventeen languages. His later works ‘Duty’ (1886), and ‘Life and Labour’ (1887), also became quite popular. In all these works, the underlying message is to perform one’s duty honestly and seriously.

Influence of the Bhagavad-Gita on Matthew Arnold:

Since in the Bhagavad-Gita, the greatest emphasis is on duty, it is tenable to reason that the increasing number of translations of the Bhagavad-Gita and the consequent interest in it must have made these writers advocate the importance of duty in their works to such an extent. As shown, earlier Arnold had a great fascination for the Bhagavad-Gita and naturally, his reiterated references to duty in his works seem to be the result of his constant use of the Bhagavad-Gita. Not at home with his professional assignments and utterly disgusted with life around him, Arnold suffered from a sense of mental uncertainty. Jump is right in his conclusion that “Arnold spent the greater part of his active life in an occupation, school inspection, which seems to have little connection with his serious literacy endeavors”. – 4 It was therefore natural that he got comfort and peace in the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita. As D.J. Delaura writes:

We know not that Arnold’s interest in the Bhagavad-Gita has been aroused by October 1845 and that it increased when he read the poem and what had been written about it. He shows his familiarity with the poem sides when early in 1848 he tries to convert to his own enthusiasm.-5


Arnold was a skeptic right from the beginning and had faith neither in the divinity of Christ nor in the immortality of the soul. This uncertainty of belief made him temperamentally gloomy. Quite often he wavered between right and wrong and had no fixed ideal. This state of mind is reflected in the following lines of ‘Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse’ and reminds us of Arjuna’s mental state before the commencement of the Great War:


Wandering between two worlds, one dead,

The other powerless to be born,

With no where yet to rest my head,

Like these, on earth, I wait forlorn.

Their faith, my tears, the world deride-

I come to shed them at their side.


Oh, hide me in your gloom profound,

Ye solemn seats of holy pain!

Take me, cowled forms, and fence me round,

Till I possess my soul again;

Till free my thoughts before me roll,

Not chafed by hourly false control! -6


Reiterating the same ideas, Arnold in ‘Stanzas in Memory of the Author of ‘Obermann’, writes:

We, in some unknown Power’s employ,

Move on a rigorous line;

Can neither, when we will enjoy,

Nor, when we will, resign.-7


R.A. Foakes explains his mental state in the following stanza:


The world of faith, of the vision of unity,

of joy, is deed, and nothing has replaced it;

all that remains is the desire to resign,

to escape from the ‘hot prison’, the

restlessness, the pain of life, into stillness

like that of stare or the see…-8


However, slowly and slowly he recovered from such uncertainties. Matthew Arnold experienced the same quandary in which Arjuna found himself when he sunk in the seat of his chariot and cast away his bow and arrow. His soul was thus besieged with sorrow. The agony of Arjuna and for that matter of Arnold is a dramatization of a eternally chronic dilemma. When a man is at the point of higher life, he feels disappointed with the out world glamour – “sick hurry and divided aims” – of the world although he is yet not fully free from illusions, In such a condition of mind, he is clear of his divine ancestry,-9 and feels attached to his persona.

The conflicting forces of the world agitated Arnold. Before he becomes conscious of his spiritual reality and accepts the obligations imposed by it. He has to struggle hard against the enemies of selfishness and senselessness and has to get rid of ignorance of his self-centered ego. Those who are cut off from spiritual nature, as was the case with Arjuna and Arnold, have to be restored to it. It is not the evolution of the physical body but the human soul that is portrayed in the Gita. This evolution knows no restrictions of time and space and the fight takes place every movement in the soul of man. Of course, most of us go through life without facing the ultimate questions that were faced by Arjuna and Arnold.

From 1850 and onwards constitute the second phase of his life. Arnold was a mature man now. Between 1845 and 1848, he studied books and essays related to the Indian philosophy and were soon able to assimilate the ideas contained therein. In 1848, he advised his friend Clough “to try a therapeutic reading of the Bhagavad-Gita “.-10 The readings of the Bhagavad-Gita obviously brought about a change in his outlook towards life and it is discernible in the poems of 1849 onwards.

The most remarkable teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita is the doctrine of ‘Nishkam Karma’. It seems that Arnold used the term ‘disinterestedness’ in the sense of ‘Anaskti’ as enunciated in the Bhagavad-Gita. By ‘Anaskti,’ Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita means doing the duty without getting in it and un-regardful of return and consequences. Arnold in his poem ‘Resignation’ writes:

Milder natures, and more free-

Whom an unblamed serenity

Hath freed from passions, and the state

Of struggle these necessitate;

Whom schooling of the stubborn mind

Hath made, or birth hath found, resigned-

These mourn not, that their goings pay

Obedience to the passing day.

These claim not every laughing Hour

For handmaid to their striding power;

Each in her turn, with torch upreared ,

To await their march; and when apprehend,

Through the cold gloom, with measured race,

To usher for a destined space

(Her own sweet errands all forgone)

The too imperious traveller on. -11


These lines closely echo the idea of the following oft-quoted ‘sloka’ of the Bhagavad-Gita:

CH-2, TEXT-47

k-MaR<YaevaiDak-arSTae Maa f-le/zu k-dacNa )

Maa k-MaRf-l/heTau>aURMaaR Tae Sa(r)ae_STvk-MaRi<a )) 47 ))


karmany ev? dhik?ras te

m? phaleshu kad?cana

m? karma-phala-hetur bh?rma

m? te sango ‘stv akarmani  ||


(Your authority extends only to the performance of Action; (obtaining or not obtaining) the Fruit, is never within your authority. (that is, never within your control); (therefore) Do not be one who performs Action with the (avaricious) motive (in the mind) that a particular fruit should be obtained (of his Action); nor do you also insist on not performing Action).-12


This famed stanza contains a very important principle of disinterestedness. When we do our work, plough or paint, sing or think, we will be deflected from disinterestedness, if we think of identification or returns or any such irrelevant consideration. Nothing matters except the goodwill, the willing fulfillment of the idea of God. Success or failure does not depend on the individual but other factors as well. Arnold begins his inaugural lecture in 1857 as Professor of Poetry at Oxford with a story of the ‘Buddha,’ while expressed his sense of accountability. The ‘Buddha’s’ follower enjoined his:

Go then O, Pourna; having been delivered.

deliver, having been consoled, console;

being arrived thyself at the farther bank,

enable others to arrive there also.13


These words also convey Arnold’s belief that social and intellectual gains emanate from dutiful individuals. This idea is expressed in his poem ‘Resignation’:

Rather thyself for some aim pray

Nobler than this, to fill the day;

Rather that heart, which burns in thee,

Ask, not to amuse, but to set free;

Be passionate hopes not ill resigned

For quiet, and a fearless mind.

And though fate grudge to thee and me

The poet’s rapt security,

Yet they, believe me, who await

No gifts from chance have conquered fate.

They, winning room to see and hear,

And to men’s business not too near,

Through clouds of individual strife

Draw homeward to the general life.-14


Almost the same idea has been expressed in the Bhagavad-Gita. In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna emphasizes doing the duty without grudge or grumbling:


CH-3, TEXT-8

iNaYaTa& ku-å k-MaR Tv& k-MaR JYaaYaae ùk-MaR<a” )

XarqrYaa}aaiPa c Tae Na Pa[iSaÖyedk-MaR<a” )) 8 ))


niyatah kuru karma tvam

karma jy?yo hy akarmanah

?ar?ra-y?tr?pi ca te

na prasidhyed akarmanam ||


(Perform the Action which has been ‘niyete’ (that is, prescribed), (According to your ‘dharma’); because, it is better to perform Action than not to perform Action; (see besides, (that), if you do not act, (you will not get even food to eat and) even the Body will not be maintained.)-15


It is only in rare cases that, like Arjuna and Arnold, we inquire in agony ‘why are we here?’ What does all this mean and whither do we go from here. Arnold, like Arjuna, passed through an immense spiritual tension, whenever he tried to cut off himself from his social obligations and had questioned why he should carry out the duty expected of him by society. He retreated behind his socialized self, had full awareness of himself as an individual, alone, and isolated. He found himself as a guest in the world, thrown into great perplexity. This gave birth to feelings of anxiety, aloneness, doubt and insecurity.

CH-3, TEXT 9

YajaQaaRTk-MaR<aae_NYa}a l/aek-ae_Ya& k-MaRbNDaNa” )

TadQa| k-MaR k-aENTaeYa Mau¢-Sa(r)” SaMaacr )) 9 ))


yajñ?rth?t karmano ‘nyatra

loko ‘yam karma-bandhanah

tad-artha karma kaunteya

mukta-sargah sam?cara  ))


(This World is bound by Action other than that which is performed for the ‘Yejna;’ perform (even) the Action (to be performed) for it, (that is for ‘Yejna’), abandoning the Attachment or Hope of Fruit.)-16


The inference of the ‘sloka’ is that all work is to be completed in a spirit of surrender, for the sake of the Divine. Admitting the ‘Mimamsa’ command that we should act for sacrifice, the Bhagavad-Gita asks us to do such action without entertaining any hope of return. In such cases, inevitable action has no binding power. Sacrifice in itself is interpreted in a larger sense. We have to sacrifice the lower mind to the higher. The religious duty towards the Vedic gods here becomes service of creation in the name of the supreme that is God.

In “Resignation” the moral doctrine of struggle within self-imposed limits had not attained clarity and relevance. The first two sections of ‘Resignation’ set up an contrast between the worldly activities. Neither self-ordained action nor self-ordained suffering is man’s end:

Though he hath loosed a thousand chains,

Though he hath borne immortal pains,

Action and suffering though he know-

He hath not lived if he lives so.-17


Thus in this poem, Arnold has emphasized the importance of action. For him, active life is necessary to face the odds of life. The action is better than renunciation. He recommends the full active life anchored in the External spirit. The Bhagavad-Gita is also a mandate for action. It explains what a man ought to do not merely as a social being but as an individual with a spiritual destiny.

In the poem, ‘Stanzas In Memory of the Author of ‘Obermann’, Arnold indicates the ways to attain success (‘Moksha’) in this world. Devoted to his duty, man attains perfection. He advises that a man should be true to his feeling and impulse. Unless he is true to himself he cannot be free from the worldly worries and anxieties.

They do not ask, who pined unseen,

Who was on action hurled,

Whose one bond is, that all have been

Unspotted by the world.

There without anger thou wilt see

Him who obeys thy spell

No more, so he but rest, like thee,

Unsoiled; – and so, farewell.-18


Bhagavad-Gita  also presents the same concept of duty. Accepting the theory of rebirth, it holds that men’s inborn nature is determined by his past actions. Everybody aims at something beyond himself.

Ch-18, TEXT 46

YaTa” Pa[v*ita>aURTaaNaa& YaeNa SavRiMad& TaTaMa( )

Svk-MaR<aa TaMa>YaCYaR iSaiÖ& ivNdiTa MaaNav” )) 46 ))


yataù pravåttir bhütänäà

yena sarvam idaà tatam

sva-karmaëä tam abhyarcya

siddhià vindati mänavaù


(when a man, (not merely by speech or flowers, but) by performing the Action which befalls him (according to his religion), worships That, from which all created being have sprung, and which has pervaded or occupied the whole of this Cosmos, he (merely thereby) attains Perfection.)-19


The dialogues between the King and his Vizier in Arnold’s poem ‘The Sick King in Bokhara’, easily remind any reader of dialogues between Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita . The King in Arnold’s poem is sad due to his decision of sentencing a merchant to death. Almost in Arjuna’s tone, the King says to Vizier:

O Vizier, thou art old, I young:

Clear in these things I cannot see,

My head is burning, and a heat

Is in my skin which angers me.


But hear ye this, ye sons of men

They that bear rule, and are obeyed,

Unto a rule more strong than theirs

Are in their turn obedient made.-20


These words of the king can be compared with those of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita  to show a close similarity:


CH-1, TEXT 28

AJauRNa ovac

d*îeMa& SvJaNa& k*-Z<a YauYauTSau& SaMauPaiSQaTaMa( )

SaqdiNTa MaMa Gaa}aai<a Mau%& c PairéuZYaiTa )) 28 ))


arjuna uväca

dåñövemaà sva-janaà kåñëa

yuyutsuà samupasthitam

sédanti mama gäträëi

mukhaà ca pariçuñyati


(Arjuna said: My dear ‘Kråsñëa,’ seeing my friends and relatives present before me in such a ?ghting spirit, I feel the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth drying up.)


When found himself in such a impasse Arnold could get relief in his preaching’s of the Bhagavad-Gita about duty. In most of his poems, there is a pushy streak of frustration and alienation of the one hand and the obvious pleadings for dutifulness and action on the other. The first reason for this was the result of his temperamental gloominess and the other due to the impact of books like the Bhagavad-Gita.

CH-1, TEXT 29

vePaQauê Xarqre Mae raeMahzRê JaaYaTae )

Gaa<@qv& ó&SaTae hSTaatvKcEv PairdùTae )) 29 ))


vepathuç ca çarére me

roma-harñaç ca jäyate

gäëòévaà sraàsate hastät

tvak caiva paridahyate


(My whole body is trembling, my hair is standing on end, my bow ‘Gäëòéva’ (bow) is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning.)- 21


The main end of life is not the pursuit of material happiness. Man is found to miss it as he comes near the end of life, with its incidents of old age, infirmity and death. For the sake of the best, justice and love he must stands up to oppression and face pain and death. On the very edge of the battle, Arjuna loses heart and all worldly considerations forced him to abstain from the battle. He, as well as Arnold, has yet to realize that wives and children, teachers and relatives, are dear not for their own sake but the sake of the self. Arjuna and Arnold both have still to listen to the voice of the teacher who declares that they should lead a life in which his acts will not have their root in desire, that there is such a thing as ‘nishkama- karma’ or desire-less action.

CH-!,TEXT 30

Na c Xa¥-aeMYavSQaaTau& >a]MaTaqv c Mae MaNa” )

iNaiMataaiNa c PaXYaaiMa ivParqTaaiNa ke-Xav )) 30 ))


na ca çaknomy avasthätuà

bhramatéva ca me manaù

nimittäni ca paçyämi

viparétäni  keçava ))


(I am now unable to stand here any longer. I am forgetting myself, and my mind is reeling. I see only causes of misfortune, O Kåñëa, killer of the Keçé demon.)

CH-!,TEXT 31

Na c é[eYaae_NauPaXYaaiMa hTva SvJaNaMaahve )

Na k-a¿e ivJaYa& k*-Z<a Na c raJYa& Sau%aiNa c )) 31 ))


na ca çreyo ‘nupaçyämi

hatvä sva-janam ähave

na käìkñe vijayaà kåñëa

na ca räjyaà sukhäni ca  ))


(I do not see how any good can come from killing my own relatives in this battle, nor can I, my dear Kåñëa, desire any subsequent victory, kingdom, or happiness.)- 22


Their grief is a dramatization of an eternally chronic predicament. They, on the entrance of higher life, but feel disappointed with the glamour and compulsions of the world and yet illusions grip them and they cherish them. They forget their heavenly ancestry, become attached to their personality and world, and are agitated by the conflicting forces of the world. Before they wake up to the world of spirit and accept the obligations imposed by it, they have to fight the enemies of selfishness and foolishness imposed by it; and tried to overcome the dark unawareness of their self-centered ego. They cut off from spiritual nature that has to be restored to it. It is the evolution of the human soul that is portrayed here. There are no limits of time and space to it. An inner fight takes place every moment in the soul of man. The Viziers’ following admonitions to the king are reminiscent of Krishna’s exhortations to Arjuna. The Vizier says:

O King, in this I praise thee not’

Now must I call thy grief not wise,

Is he thy friend, or of thy blood,

To find such favour in thine eyes?


Nay, were he thine own mother’s son,

Still, thou art king, and the law stands.

It were not meet the balance swerved.

The sword were broken in thy hands.-23


The following words of Lord Krishna seem to have haunted the mind of Arnold at the time of writing the above-quoted lines:



(c)E-BYa& Maa SMa GaMa” PaaQaR NaETatvYYauPaPaÛTae )

+aud]& ôdYadaEbRLYa& TYa¤-aeitaï ParNTaPa )) 3 ))


klaibyaà mä sma gamaù pärtha

naitat tvayy upapadyate

kñudraà hådaya-daurbalyaà

tyaktvottiñöha parantapa  ))


(O Partha! Be not effeminate (like this); this is not worthy of you,O (thou) harasser of foes, casting off this base weakness of heart, stand up (to fight).-24


These words of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita  and those of the King in Arnold’s poem make us think of the loneliness of man oppressed by doubt, the dread of waste and emptiness, and from whose being the riches of heaven and earth and the soothe of human affections are slipping away. This unbearable sadness is generally the experience of all those who seek the image of truth. Their words are uttered in agony and pain. They have their mind on the frontiers of two worlds. They are struggling to get something done as man has struggled from the beginning, and yet he is incapable of making decisions because of his inability to understand either himself or his companions or the true character of the universe in which he is placed. They are stressing the corporal pain and the material discomfort which warfare involves.

CH-2, TEXT 11


AXaaeCYaaNaNvXaaecSTv& Pa[javada&ê >aazSae )

GaTaaSaUNaGaTaaSaU&ê NaaNauXaaeciNTa Pai<@Taa” )) 11 ))


çré-bhagavän uväca

açocyän anvaçocas tvaà

prajïä-vädäàç ca bhäñase

gatäsün agatäsüàç ca

nänuçocanti paëòitäù  ))


(You are lamenting for those, for whom you should not lament, and yet talk about Knowledge, knowers do not lament (whether) the dead or the not dead.)25

In this poem ‘The Sick King in Bokhara’, Arnold favours even killing. However, this extreme step should be for some just cause. It is not improper to kill for the sake of duty and the welfare of humanity. Here Arnold demonstrates his faith in the disposal of duty. Only through action, man can ­­attain peace in life. Mere renunciation of materialistic pleasure is not enough to get happiness, but a man should perform all the worldly deeds without attachment. In this approach to one’s duty, some time Arnold is very practical.

In his Liverpool Address, he told his students about his belief in, “look for yourself, never mind what other people may say; no opinion or theories can interfere with information acquired from dissection.”-26   Arnold was never disloyal to the duty of seeking truth-using reason. It was out of intellectual sincerity that he came to accept ways of knowledge and action. If a man is loyal to his work, he leaves something for coming generations. Honest work or action alone is immortal in this world, where everyone dies.

Critics are at a loss to understand as to why Matthew Arnold preferred Empedocles to Lucretius for writing a poem in 1849. Kenneth Allott believes that perhaps Lucretius’ praise of Empedocles prompted Arnold to compose the poem. Lucretius, referring to Empedocles, says, that nothing in Sicily is “more illustrious than this man, nor more sacred and wonderful and dear.” Alluding to his discoveries, he declares that Empedocles is “hereby mortal”. Arnold was in search of a poet-philosopher based on the characteristics referred ­­­­­­­­to by Carlyle in his lecture on ‘Here as Poet’. Distinguishing in Carlyle-Emersonian fashion, Arnold refers to the “philosophe” who believes in “the logical absolute reason” and the “philosopher” possessing “seeing eye” and driving his feet “into the world ground of individualizing as spiritual, poetic, profound persons.”-27

For such a post-philosopher, Arnold thought of the authors of the ‘Book of Job’ and these words of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita and those of the King in Arnold’s poem. Those make us think of the loneliness of man oppressed by doubt, the dread of waste and emptiness, and from whose being the riches of heaven and earth and the soothe of human affections are slipping away. This unbearable sadness is generally the experience of all those who seek the image of truth. Their words are uttered in agony and pain. They have their mind on the frontiers of two worlds. They are struggling to get something done as man has struggled from the beginning, and yet he is incapable of making decisions because of his inability to understand either himself or his companions or the true character of the universe in which he is placed. They are stressing the corporal pain and the material discomfort which warfare involves. During these years he read with interest the Bhagavad-Gita and its analysis by Wilhelm Von Humboldt in the ‘Transactions of the Royal Academy of Science,’ Berlin (1826)-28.

In his analysis, Humboldt has tried to point out the similarities between the Bhagavad-Gita, the ‘De Return Nature’ and the fragments of Empedocles. H.H.Hilman who was Professor of Poetry at Oxford wrote a review of Humboldt’s’ analysis in the Quarterly Review of April 1931, says that the Bhagavad-Gita in its place in the Mahabharata reads like a noble fragment of Empedocles or Lucretius introduces into the midst of a Homeric epic.”-29 Arnold read Humboldt’s review and the associations between Lucretius, Empedocles and the Bhagavad-Gita must have exercised a great fascination on his mind. This is most probably inspired him to write a poem on Empedocles.

Arnold’s ‘Empedocles on Etna’ begins with the line “Time is wisest for it discovers everything,” which enunciates a bitter truth. In ‘Empedocles on Etna’ Arnold follows Carlyle’s teaching based on the Bhagavad-Gita , i.e., “Lower your denominator; don’t ask too much of life, work at what is in front of you.” It expresses an ideal view of life. His (Empedocles) message to Pausanias is not to despair because life provides scope for man’s effort:

What were the wise man’s plan? –

Through this sharp, toil – set life,

To work as best he can,

And win what’s won by Strife.-30


Empedocles’ unhappiness is due to his lost touch with the new age and detachment from the divine plan and makes his exit violently but with utmost joy. Empedocles appreciates the path of work, action, success, but feels the attraction of the contemplative life.

CH-4, TEXT 23

GaTaSa(r)SYa Mau¢-SYa jaNaaviSQaTaceTaSa” )

YajaYaacrTa” k-MaR SaMaGa]& Pa[ivl/IYaTae )) 23 ))

gata-saìgasya muktasya


yajïäyäcarataù karma

samagraà praviléyate


(He) who is without Attachment, free (from love and hate), whose Mind is concentrated on knowledge in the shape of an Equable Reason), and who performs Actions (merely) for a ‘Yajna’, his entire ‘Karma’ is destroyed)-31


Arnold is one with Carlyle and the Bhagavad-Gita in his belief that action by itself does not bind. If it does, then we are committed to a gross dualism between God and the world and the world becomes a celestial confusion. The universe is a sign of the Supreme and what binds is not the act but the selfish attitude to action, born of unawareness that makes us envisage that we are so many separate individuals with our special preference and aversions.


For Arnold, the idea of duty gave hope and certitude. The great men and sages, in this disorganized society, have always recommended the self-sufficiency. Self-discipline is a way to face the disagreeable society. The other way is action. Seneacour also advised the same, “Take back your gifts and your chains’ let (man) act, let him suffer even’, let him act for this is to enjoy and to live.”-32   Self-assertion, energy and courage, Arnold feels, are valuable in themselves. He enjoined two duties, harmonized in one; the individual interior search for sanction of action, and the obligation to act for the civilizing of society:

We have the truth! They cry;

And yet their oracle,

Trumpet it as they will, is but the same as thine.

Once read thy own breast right,

And thou hast done with fears;

Man gets no other light,

Search he a thousand years,

Sink in thyself! There ask what ails thee, at that shrine!-33


The intellectual frame to mention in ‘Empedocles on Etna’ is substantially derived from the Bhagavad-Gita. In his voluminous biography of Arnold, L.Bonnerot-34 also believes the possible influence of the Bhagavad-Gita on Arnold in this regard. Empedocles maintains that it is neither the chase of pleasure nor the forsaking of the world that matters. Therefore, Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita advises Arjuna that perfection is not attained by mere absence from the action or by mere renunciation but by knowledge of the self (11.142-46). Arnold put forward a theory of Culture as –

The endeavour to see things as they are, to draw towards a knowledge of the universal order which seems to be intended of bad timed at in the world, and which it is a man’s happiness to go along with or his misery to go counter to-to learn, in short, the will of God.-35

Man is gloomy because he makes his will the “measure of the rights.” Human beings review all their experiences in terms of their wisdom of the self. Man thus becomes the “tool of his woes.” There is a longing for bliss in us. The thirst arises from the necessary characteristics of the ‘Atman’ with the ‘Brahman’. Man’s fault consists in seeking to satisfy the desire in the world of appearance, of ‘Maya’ or illusion, as the Veisntin would say. The mistake is created by ourselves; we make ‘the mist/through which to see less clear’. As long as we do not look within, we shall not have ‘inward peace.’ Sin, according to the Bhagavad-Gita, consists of the willful unawareness of our proper nature. The ignorance can be ended whenever we so desire. Our salvation lies in our own hands. Our acts for good or ill are mightier powers,’ man is ruled by ‘Karma,’ of which he is the only begetter, whether an act is good or bad depends on whether it advances or retards our growth towards the reality. Matthew Arnold writes:

But thou, because thou hear’st

Men scoff at Heaven and Fate,

Because the Gods thou fear’st

Fail to make blest thy state,

Tremblest, and wilt not dare to trust the joys there are!


I say! Fear not! Life still

Leaves human effort scope.

But, since life teems with ill,

Nurse no extravagant hope;

Because thou must not dream, thou need’st not then despair!-36


But, even a man renounces all sins, ‘other existences there are that disagree with ours.’ Even if nature did not hurt us, “the ill deeds of other men make often make our life dark”. Arnold’s answer to this predicament is based on the narrative in the Bhagavad-Gita  of the ‘sthitsprajna,’ the man ‘founded’ in wisdom. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna describes the characteristics of a man who has attained ‘Yoga’. ‘Yoga’ is the state of one who is founded in wisdom. ‘Yoga’ implies sameness of mind in success and failure alike. The yogi does his allotted duty, unconcerned with the fruit of action. Arnold’s version is:

And, lastly, though of ours

No weakness  spoil our lot,

Though the non-human powers

Of Nature harm us not,

The ill deeds of other men make often our life dark.


What were the wise man’s plan?-

Through this sharp, toil-set life,

To work as best he can,

And win what’s won strife,-

But we an easier way to cheat our pains have found.-37


Empedocles’ final suggestion to Pausanias is that he should follow the human venture without fear and wasteful expectation, without dreaming or despairing. In Samkara’s words, life is characterized by ‘avidya-kama-karma,’ i.e., desire and strife, arising out of the ignorance of the ultimate truth… The conclusion of ‘Kama,’ while their cause ‘avidya’ contains in a hidden form, marks the artistic attitude; the dismissal of ‘avidya’ contains in a hidden form, marks the aesthetic attitude; the dismissal of ‘avidya’ even in a hidden form marks the saintly attitude.-38 The upward self-transcendence is the destruction of the isolating sense of “I-ness.”

CH-18, TEXT 49

ASa¢-buiÖ” SavR}a iJaTaaTMaa ivGaTaSPa*h” )

NaEZk-MYaRiSaiÖ& ParMaa& SaNNYaaSaeNaaiDaGaC^iTa )) 49 ))


asakta-buddhiù sarvatra

jitätmä vigata-spåhaù

naiñkarmya-siddhià paramäà



(Therefore), when a man behaves, without being attached to anything, and has controlled his mind, and with a desire less heat, then, by Renunciation (of the Fruit of Action), the highest Perfection by Non-Action (‘naiskarmyasiddhi’) is obtained).-39


The Bhagavad-Gita repeats that control and liberty from desire are essential to spiritual perfection. Attachment to matter and a sense of ego are the characteristics of our inferior nature. If we are to rise to knowledge of our true self, self-possessed and self-luminous, we must defeat our lower nature, with its unawareness and inertia, its love of worldly possession, etc. ‘Naiskarmya’ means the state transcending all work. It is not a complete abandonment from all work. Such quietism is not possible so long as we live in the body. The Bhagavad-Gita insists on inner renunciation. As the ego and nature are akin, to the enlightened soul becoming Brahman, the pure self-described as silent, calm, inactive, acts in the world of ‘Prakriti,’ knowing what the best is.

Again, Arnold suggests that the exacerbation of awareness that afflicts Empedocles is the result of being born in one age and living into another. The task is urgent; for ‘Karma,’ which signifies the unavoidable consequence of our actions, goods, and bad, accumulates in each birth. So:

And each succeeding age in which we are born

Will have more peril for us than the last;


Will make ourselves harder to be discern’d.-40


Arnold knew that men would be tempted to escape into the past instead of facing the task. But we cannot cheat ourselves with such a sham solution:

And the reality will pluck us back,

Knead us in its hot hand, and change our nature.

And we shall feel our powers of effort flag,

And rally them for one last fight-and fail;

And we shall sink in the impossible strife,

And be astray for ever.-41


The poet presents a life that was sufficiently poised between the life of thought in solitude and the life of friendly connections in society to enjoy them both:

….then neither thought

Nor outward things were closed and dead to us;

But we received the shock of mighty thoughts

On simple minds with a pure natural joy;

And if the sacred lord oppressed our brain,

We have the power to feel the pressure eased,

The brow unbound, the thoughts flow free again,

We have not lost our balance then, nor grown,

Thought’s slaves and dead to every natural joy. – 42


By death, Empedocles must have intended to preserve something else, not his poor body or flesh, but his reliability, his honourable character. He would be useful to the world and man by giving an example of a man’s sacrifice when he ought to die. Here is a sound current of resistance, consistent wisdom of self-control in the treatment of the sad experience so nicely described:

We would have inward peace,

Yet will not look within;

We would have misery cease,

Yet will not cease from sin;

We want all pleasant ends, but will use no harsh means;


We do not what we ought,

What we ought not, we do,

And lean upon the thought,

That chance will bring us through;

But our own acts, for good or ill, are mightier powers.


Yet, even when men forsakes,

All sin,-is just, is pure,

Abandon all which makes

His welfare insecure,-

Other existence there are, that clash with ours.-43


In this poem, he also makes a vigorous appeal to the manliness, fortitude and sobriety of spirit with which all disappointments and failures of humanity ought to be met. The poet asserts that it is the part of a man of true wisdom to curb effusive wishes, to bend to the strength of forces he cannot control, and, while nursing no ‘extravagant hope’ to yield to no despair:

Streams will not curb their pride

The just man not to entomb,

Nor lightening go aside

Nor give his virtues room;

Nor is that wind less rough that blows a good man’s barge. -44


When, after completely justifying his good sense of soul,’ he finds himself powerless to act as he approves and leaps into the fiery crater. Here the poet presents a compact mind without either a deep shadow of despair or high lights of faith. Man’s mind is the governing part of the body. It governs the entire behaviour of the personality:

Mind is the spell which governs earth and heaven.

Man has a mind with which to plan his safety;

Know that, and help thyself!-45


Man is accountable for any wrong happening in this world. If the world left the way told by gods, it is bound to be ruined. Man is suffering in this world because of his wrongs. To be ambitious is not wrong, but to dream without any base is generally the cause of sufferings:

Nor is the thirst to blame.

Man errs not that he deems

His welfare his true aim,

He errs because he dreams

The world does but exist that welfare to bestow.-46


Most of the desires of man are in futile. Man does not recognize his limitations. The poet advises the man to be watchful about life’s mouldings. Man is born into a life full of conflicts and every new birth brings problems into the world. In this world, the wise men struggle for the betterment of mankind. They struggle for the advantage of others. Empedocles also believes that wise men will teach us the truth if we approach them in a spirit of service. As far as the question of suffering is concerned, Empedocles advises not to suffer silently and passively. Everybody should struggle against the odds of life, and in his struggle, he will find God at his side:


So, loath to suffer mute,

We, peopling the void air,

Make Gods to whom to impute

The ills we ought to bear;

With God and Fate to rail at, suffering easily.-47


The Bhagavad-Gita also advises discarding all desires. A man should not look upon the things of the world as a means for his satisfaction. To develop this outlook of non-attachment to things, meditation is essential:

CH-2, TEXT 71

ivhaYa k-aMaaNYa” SavaRNPauMaa&êriTa iNa”SPa*h”)

iNaMaRMaae iNarhªar” Sa XaaiNTaMaiDaGaC^iTa)) 71 ))


vihäya kämän yaù sarvän

pumäàç carati niùspåhaù

nirmamo nirahaìkäraù

sa çäntim adhigacchati


(He alone acquires tranquility, who performs Action having given up all Desire (that is, all Attachment) and become desire less, and who does not have mine-ness and egoism.)-48


The well-known saying of the Upanishad, “The human mind is of two kinds, pure and impure. That which is intent on securing its desires is impure; that which is free from attachment to desires is pure,” is very significant in this regard.

In ‘Courage’ which was published in 1852, the poet once again underlines the importance of the detached life. He advises that a man should control his desires and he should move according to the law of nature and God. We should not disturb those who act under the impulsion of nature. They should be slowly delivered from the false identification of the self:

True, we must tame our rebel will:

True, we must bow to Nature’s law:

Must bear in silence many in ill;

Must learn to wait, renounce, withdraw.-49


By surrender to God and nature, who preside over cosmic existence, and activity, a man is relieved from anxieties:

CH-3, TEXT 30

MaiYa SavaRi<a k-MaaRi<a SaNNYaSYaaDYaaTMaceTaSaa )

iNaraXaqiNaRMaRMaae >aUTva YauDYaSv ivGaTaJvr” )) 30 ))


mayi sarväëi karmäëi


niräçér nirmamo bhütvä

yudhyasva vigata-jvaraù


(For this reason, O Arjune!) making a ‘samnyasa’ (that is, dedication) of all Actions to Me ‘with a mind fixed on the Highest Self’ (that is, with an ‘adhyatmabuddhi’-Trans.) and giving up Hope (for the Fruit) as also Mine-ness, fight, without any mental perturbation.)-50


Thus in the Bhagavad-Gita and Arnold, we find that duty determines the work or determines destiny. There is not a moment without some duty. Duty promptly and faithfully decides every affair before us. It fills the claims of today. It is an authority lives with us. It is one of the worst errors to suppose that there is any other course of safety except that of duty. Duty performed is a morale boost. God always has a hand of help for those who are willing to do their duty. Exactness in duty is a wonderful resource of cheerfulness. Duty is the divine rule of behaviour that keeps us on the correct path and prevents us from committing ethical errors. It regulates our conducts. It helps us to face fears and fight temptations.

All great men react to the call of duty faithfully and suppress their emotions that hold up with their loyalty to it. Just as we cannot disobey the ways of Gods without punishment, similarly when duty is disobeyed, misery and suffering afflict us. The idea of duty keeps the world in action. It brings the man out of the dark into the light. It is a correcting mode. It makes a man fearless and faithfulness to duty gives moral strength. In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna tells Arjuna that one can attain perfection only while doing one’s duties. The action done devotedly, whole-heartedly and without attachment to the results makes way for perfection.

In ‘Youth And Calm’ (1852), Arnold presents a new outlook. He says if a man is contented with what he has, or he is satisfied with his state of living, it is noble. However, this alone is not enough because it will create obstacles in his progress in life. It cannot be the supreme achievement in life, though, for a certain extent, it is a healthy sign, because when a certain part of life is crossed, then man desires the end of life. After all, after that, there will be no further hope in life. Arnold writes:

Calm’s not life’s crown, though calm is well,

‘Tis all perhaps which man acquires,

But ’tis not what our youth desires.-51


Here Arnold recommends full active life for human beings. Aldous Huxley believes that Arnold accepted the post of Inspector of Schools that Lord Lansdown had procured for him in 1852, as a kind of philosophical action. He wanted to marry then and he needed an income. He did his job and did it well, though it adversely affected his poetic career. He said:

To attain or approach, perfection in the region of thought and feeling and to unite this with perfection of form, demands not merely an effort and a labour, but an actual tearing of oneself to pieces, which one does not readily consent to, unless one can devote one’s whole life to poetry.-52

To be a poet in the intervals of routine work is almost impossible. “Yet-work- routine work says Trilling: “is one of the ‘ways’ of the Bhagavad-Gita, an alternative to contemplation and escape from despair.”-53 So impressed by the ‘Karma’ philosophy, he devoted himself to a conventional career. The influence can be seen in ‘The Buried Life’ the very title has significance for others with its famous lines:

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,

But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracking out our true, original course; -54


Both the action and imagery of ‘Sohrab and Rustam’ land support to the ‘Karma’ philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita. It is also a mandate for action. Both the father and the son were haunted by the fierceness of action. They did not think about the result. Sohrab alone could not sleep for a moment. Throughout the night, he kept on thinking about his duty as a patriotic soldier. In the early hours of the morning: “He rose, and clad himself, and girt his sword,/And took his horseman’s cloak, and left his tent,” -55 He was burning with the passion of acting. The same was the case with Rustam. They were not afraid of the dire consequences of war. Both the father and the son plunged into disastrous combat. When his father Rustam fatally stabbed Sohrab, he cries:

‘Desire not that, my father! thou must live,

For some are born to do great deeds, and live,

As some are born to be obscured, and die.

Do thou the deeds I die too young to do,

And reap a second glory in thine age; -56


Echoing the Bhagavad-Gita, Matthew Arnold sets out in ‘Sohrab and Rustan, that everything in this world is predestined. Human beings are simply agents to execute the plans of God. Whatever is happening and the Almighty God has already determined whatever will happen in future. All the deeds of man whether good or bad, are pre-ordained. In ‘Sohrab and Rustam’ when the son was killed by his father, the son laments: ‘But it was writ in Heaven that this should be.’-57


‘The Scholar-Gipsy’ (1853) has been variously interpreted by critics. Some think that in it the influence of the Bhagavad-Gita is easily traceable, while a few others disagree with this stand. However, a careful perusal of this enigmatic poem convinces the reader of the fact that study of this poem in the light of the idea of true renunciation as enunciated by Lord Krishna in Chapter V-58 of the Bhagavad-Gita will make the poem more meaningful. ‘The Scholar-Gipsy’ abandoned the usual course of life in the hope of “the spark from heaven to fall.” Referring to the scholar’s renunciation of the common path of life, Arnold attributes imperishably to him, because he has ‘one aim, one business, one desire.” Distinguishing him from commonly placed persons, he writes:

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers,

Fresh, undiverted to the world without,

Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;

Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,

Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.

O life unlike to ours!’

Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,

Of whom each strives, nor known for what he strives,

And each half- lives a hundred different lives;

Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we, -59


Arnold’s lines illustrate the idea of the following ‘sloka’ of the Bhagavad-Gita:

CH-5, TEXT 2


SaNNYaaSa” k-MaRYaaeGaê iNa”é[eYaSak-ravu>aaE )

TaYaaeSTau k-MaRSaNNYaaSaaTk-MaRYaaeGaae iviXaZYaTae )) 2 ))


çré-bhagavän uväca

sannyäsaù karma-yogaç ca

niùçreyasa-karäv ubhau

tayos tu karma-sannyäsät

karma-yogo viçiñyate


(‘Karma’ ‘ samnyasa’ and ‘Karma-Yoga,’  both these (‘Patha’ or ‘Nisthas’) are ‘nihareyasakara’ (that is producing Release); but, (that is, though both may be of the same value from the point of view of Release,) the worth (that is, the efficacy) of ‘Karma-Yoga,’ out of these two, is greater than that of ‘Karma -Samnyasa.’ -60

The ‘Samkhya’ method involves the renunciation of works and the ‘Yoga’ insists on their performance in the right spirit. They are at bottom the same but the Yoga way comes more naturally to us. The two ways are not inconsistent. In ‘Samkhya,’ ‘ jhana’ or insight is emphasized. In Yoga, the volitional endeavour is stressed. In one, we know the Self by thinking away from the unfamiliar elements; in the other, we will them away.

CH-5, TEXT 3

jeYa” Sa iNaTYaSaNNYaaSaq Yaae Na Üeií Na k-ax(+aiTa )

iNaÜRNÜae ih Mahabahae Sau%& bNDaaTPa[MauCYaTae )) 3 ))


jïeyaù sa nitya-sannyäsé

yo na dveñöi na käìkñati

nirdvandvo hi mahä-bäho

sukhaà bandhät pramucyate


(He, who does not hate (anything) and who does not desire (anything), that man should be looked upon as a ‘permanent ascetic’ (though he might be performing Action); because, O Mighty-armed Arjuna! he, who has been liberated from the pairs of opposites (such as, pain and happiness, etc.), is, without effort, liberated from (all the bonds (of Karma).-61

CH-5, TEXT 5

YaTSaa&:YaE” Pa[aPYaTae SQaaNa& TaÛaeGaEriPa GaMYaTae )

Wk&- Saa&:Ya& c YaaeGa& c Ya” PaXYaiTa Sa PaXYaiTa )) 5 ))


yat säìkhyaiù präpyate sthänaà

tad yogair api gamyate

ekaà säìkhyaà ca yogaà ca

yaù paçyati sa paçyati


(That (Released-) state, which is reached by the (followers of the) ‘Samkhya’ (Path), there too do the ‘Yogina’ (that is, the ‘Karma’-‘Yogina’) go; he who sees that the (two paths of) ‘Samkhya’ and ‘Yoga’ are (in this way) the same, may be said to have seen (the true principle.)-62

The true renouncer is not he who abstains completely but whose work is performed in the spirit of detachment. Renunciation is a mental condition, the casting of desires in action.  Honest work is done with all desires leaving behind. There is no contradiction between the two. When the work is done by the wise or, the body (that is external) remains the same but the inward attitude is different.

In ‘Merope’ (1858) the poet prefers good and great actions in life. Here Arnold’s message was that man should undertake painful and laborious work at the command of his conscience. He should accept what happens without attachment or repulsion. All work should be done in a spirit of sacrifice, for the sake of the Divine. The Bhagavad-Gita makes us do such action without entertaining any hope of reward.

Surprisingly, the message of dutifulness in ‘Merope’ is communicated by Arnold through Polyphontes who otherwise is a murderer. ‘Merope’ as a drama is a failure and the villain, Polyphontes (whom Arnold rather cherished), is drawn with a mechanical ‘understanding, a little of the light and a little of dark.-63 He, at many places, becomes Arnold’s mouthpiece. He maintains ‘consistent graciousness’-64 and echoes the idea of the Bhagavad-Gita as assimilated by Arnold. While talking to Merope says:” …I will believe, /Courageous, faithful actions, nobly dared”.-65

These lines closely echo the idea conveyed in the following lines of the Bhagavad-Gita:

CH-3, TEXT 19

TaSMaadSa¢-” SaTaTa& k-aYa| k-MaR SaMaacr )

ASa¢-ae ùacrNk-MaR ParMaaPanaeiTa PaUåz” )) 19 ))


tasmäd asaktaù satataà

käryaà karma samäcara

asakto hy äcaran karma

param äpnoti püruñaù


(‘Tasmat,’ (that is, because the ‘Jnanin’ does not in this way set store by anything in this world), you too do not have any Attachment (to the Fruit), but perform Action, having given up Attachment, attains the highest (state).-66


It shows that work done without attachment is marked as superior to work done in a spirit of sacrifice that is in it higher than work done with selfish aims. Even the emancipated souls do work as the circumstance arises. While this verse says that, the man reaches the Supreme. (‘param’), performing actions, without attachment, ‘Karma’ helps us to attain purity of mind which leads to salvation. It takes us to excellence indirectly through the attainment of purity of mind. Justifying the murder committed by him, Polyphones almost argues in the vein of Lord Krishna who inspires Arjuna to kill the Kauravas. Polyphone talking to Merope says:

Murder! – but what is murder?

When a wretch

For private gain or hatred takes a life,

We call it murder, crush him, and brand his name.

But when, for some great public cause, an arm

Is, without love or hate, austerely raised

Against a power exempt from common checks,

Dangerous to all, to be but thus annulled –

Ranks any man with murder such an act?

With grievous deeds, perhaps; with murder, no;

Find then such cause, the charge of murder falls –

Be judge thyself if it abound not here.-67


In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna advises Arjuna almost identically when Arjuna seeing his friends and relatives, throws his arms. Lord Krishna gives him the suggestion to fight for the sake of duty because he also thinks that if a work is done for a great cause, then it cannot be a crime. Krishna’s advice to Arjuna does not imply that he is supporting the legality of warfare, War and murder happen to be the occasion which Krishna uses to indicate the spirit in which all work including warfare, should be performed. Krishna advises Arjuna to raise the arm and fight without any passion:

CH-2, TEXT 31

SvDaMaRMaiPa cave+Ya Na ivk-iMPaTauMahRiSa )

DaMYaaRiÖ YauÖaC^\eYaae_NYaT+ai}aYaSYa Na ivÛTae )) 31 ))


sva-dharmam api cävekñya

na vikampitum arhasi

dharmyäd dhi yuddhäc chreyo ‘nyat

kñatriyasya na vidyate


(Besides, even if you consider your duty, you ought not to falter (on this occasion); because, there is nothing more meritorious to a ‘Kastriya’ than warfare enjoined by duty.)-68


For a ‘Ksatrya’ and Arjuna His ‘avadharma’ or law of action requires him to engage in battle. Protection of right by the acceptance of battle, if necessary, is the social duty of the ‘Ksatriya,’ and not renunciation. He has to maintain order by force and not to become an ascetic by “shaving off the hair.” Krishna tells Arjuna that for warriors there is no more ennobling duty than a fair fight, a privilege that leads to heaven:

CH-2, TEXT 32

Yad*C^Yaa caePaPaà& SvGaRÜarMaPaav*TaMa( )

Saui%Na” +ai}aYaa” PaaQaR l/>aNTae YauÖMaqd*XaMa( )) 32 ))


yadåcchayä copapannaà

svarga-dväram apävåtam

sukhinaù kñatriyäù pärtha

labhante yuddham édåçam


(And O Partha! this war, which is indeed a door of Heaven, found open without effort, falls to the lot of only those ‘Ksatriyas,’ who are fortunate.)-69


A person’s happiness consists not in domestic pleasures and comfort but in fighting for the lofty cause:

CH-2, TEXT 33

AQa cetviMaMa& DaMYa| Sa°aMa& Na k-irZYaiSa )

TaTa” SvDaMa| k-IiTa| c ihTva PaaPaMavaPSYaiSa )) 33 ))


atha cet tvam imaà dharmyaà

saìgrämaà na kariñyasi

tataù sva-dharmaà kértià ca

hitvä päpam aväpsyasi


(But, if you will not carry on this (for you), righteous warfare, then you will have abandoned your duty and lost your honour, and incurred sin;)-70


When in the world the struggle between right and wrong is on, he who abstains from it out of false sentimentality, weakness or cowardice would be sinning. In ‘A Southern Night’ (1861), Arnold believes that the beauty of life consists in performing the duty. He was deeply touched by the personality of Indian sages who un-regardful of anything while performing their duties:

Some sage, to whom the world was dead,

And men were specks, and life a play;

Who made the roots of trees his bed,

And once a day


With staff and gourd his way did bend

To Villages and homes of man,

For food to keep him till he end

His mortal span.-71


He finds dutiful Indian sages very near to God. They can attain deliverance by their devotion to God. They also serve mankind without expecting any reward:


And the pure goals of being reach;

Hoar-headed, wrinkled, clad in white,

Without companion, without speech,

By day and night


Pondering God’s mysteries untold,

And tranquil as the glacier-snows

He by those Indian mountains old

Might well repose.-72


The Bhagavad-Gita says:

CH-2, TEXT 57

Ya” SavR}aaNai>aòehSTataTPa[aPYa éu>aaéu>aMa( )

Naai>aNaNdiTa Na Üeií TaSYa Pa[ja Pa[iTaiïTaa )) 57 ))


yaù sarvatränabhisnehas

tat tat präpya çubhäçubham

näbhinandati na dveñöi

tasya prajïä pratiñöhitä


(His reason is (said to be) steady whose Mind is without Attachment in all things, and who feels no exultation or aversion about the agreeable or disagreeable which befalls him).-73


The same idea of dutifulness, Arnold expressed earlier in 1852 in one of his poems entitled ‘Self Dependence.’  The following lines of the poem are remarkable in this respect:

‘Bounded by themselves and unregardful

In what state God’s other works may be,

In their own tasks all their powers pouring,

These attain the mighty life you see’-74.


Arnold’s firm faith in duty becomes the central theme in ‘Obermann Once More’. In the poem, he says that man should devote himself to duty:

Unduped of fancy, henceforth man

Must labour! – must resign

His all too human creeds and scan

Simply the way divine!-75


Thus, it is well known that the central teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita aims at man’s freedom through duty (‘karma’) – do thy duty without an eye to the result thereof. The purification of heart, which is essential for one’s ‘moksha,’ seems to be the keynote of Krishna’s teaching of Arjuna.

Arjuna’s unwillingness to do his duty as a ‘Kshatriya’ to fight for a just cause-because it involves the destruction of his people, prompted Lord Krishna to preach Arjuna. Not that Arjuna did not recognize the just and right cause, but he would rather renounce the world and try for ‘moksha’ than kill his relatives and friends. Krishna called it, ‘unarya’ like delusion, contrary to the attainment alike of heaven and honour and exhorted Partha not to yield to unmanliness, but to cast off this mean faintheartedness. Could a coward who fails to do his duty be worthy to attain ‘moksha?’ Could a man not purified by the ‘Svadharma:’ could a renegade, a slave, attain ‘Moksha?’  Lord answer is in the negative.

The Bhagavad-Gita advocates detachment from desires. A man may do the painful works, but it should be done in a way so that one can reach excellence even while doing one’s duty. If a man acts in the light of the Bhagavad-Gita with detachment, devotion and love even to the enemy, he can improve the matters. Arjuna takes up a pacifist approach and declines to partake in a fight for truth and justice. He takes a human view of the situation.

Arjuna does not raise the question of the right or wrong of war. He has faced many battles and fought countless enemies. He declares himself against the war because he has to annihilate his friends and relatives. It is not a question of violence or nonviolence, but of using violence against one’s friends and relatives now turned enemies. The Bhagavad-Gita’s advises is to fight against evil and wrong. War is taken as an illustration. It also lays stress on human unity. J.W. Hauer states about the central message of the Bhagavad-Gita in these words “we are not called to solve the meaning of life but to find out the Deed demanded of us and to work and so, by action to master the riddle of life”.-76

The Hindu classic the Bhagavad-Gita framed these spirited tests in terms of the relationship between morality and power. Arjuna, “overwhelmed by sorrow” on the eve of the battle at the horrors he is about to unleash, wonders what can justify the terrible consequences of war. This is the wrong question, Krishna rejoins, ”Because life is eternal and cyclical and the essence of the universe is indestructible. Redemption will come through the fulfillment of a pre-assigned duty, paired with a recognition that its outward manifestations are illusory because “the impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.” Arjuna, a warrior, has been presented with a war he did not seek. He should accept the circumstances with equanimity and fulfill his role with honour, and must strive to kill and prevail and “should not grieve.”    –Henry Kissenger

This is also the crux of many poems of Arnold. Himself torn by diametrically opposite pulls, Arnold seems to have found a solution to his spiritual crisis in the message of dutifulness as given by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. This naturally changed the tone of many of his poems and became their central theme. In many respects, Arnold in life resembles Arjuna sitting in despair in his chariot amid two armies before salvaged by Lord Krishna.


1-English Verse, (ed.), W.Peacock, (London, 1972), Vol. III, p.619.

2-J.A.Barrett, (Ed.), Sartor Resartus, (London, 1916), p.236.

3-Ibid., p. 238.

4- J.D.Jump, Matthew Arnold, (London, 1955), p.39.

5-D.J.Delaura, Matthew Arnold, (New Jersy, 1973), p.62.

6- Arnold Poetical Works (ed), KENNETH ALLOTT, Second edition edited by MIRIAM ALLOTT, (Longman London, 1979), p. 305.    Hereafter referred to as Poetical Works.

7-Idem., p.142.

8-R.A. Forkes, ‘The Rhetoric of Assertion’, The Romantic Assertion: A Study Language of in the Nineteenth CenturyPoetry, (Methuen, 1958), p.159.

9-It recalls to mind Word Worth’s idea about man’s divinity as expressed in the following lines of ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early childhood’:

Our birth is but asleep and a forgetting;

The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,

Hath had elsewhere it’s setting,


And cometh from afar;

Not in entire forgetfulness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:


(Wordsworth: Poetical Works), p.460.


10–L. Trilling, Mathew Arnold (New York, 1949), p.24.

11-Poetical Works, p. 89-90.

12-OM-TAT-SAT SRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITA RAHASYA OR KARMA-YOGA-SASTA, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Third Edition, (Poona, 1971) Revised, July-1975, p.895. ****Hereafter referred to as the GITA. Sanskrit is downloaded from Google.  Roman is taken from the Bhaktivedanta Veda Base: A TREASURE OF SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE.

13-K. Allott, Matthew Arnold, (London, 1975), p.2.

14-Poetical Works, p.98-99.

15-GITA, p.914.


17-Poetical Works, p.94.

18-Idem., p.143.

19-GITA, p.1196.

20-Poetical Works, p.86.

21-GITA, p.860-61.

22-Idem, 861.

23-Poetical Works, p.85.

24-GITA, p.866.

25-Idem, p.870.

26-K.Allott, Five Uncollected Essays of Matthew Arnold, (Liverpool, 1953), pp.86-87.


28-Kenneth Allott, ‘Early Reading Lists’. Victorian Studies II, (1959), p.261

29-Quarterly Review, XIV (April 1931), pp.3-4-7.

30-Poetical Works, p.176.

31-GITA, p.953-54.

32-Trilling, p.118.

33-Poetical Works, p.170.

34-Jhesite s suivre le Professor Lowry guend il incline a’ penser que is BHAGAVAD GITA a eu une forte influence sur ‘Resignation’ et “autres poems de jeunesse.” Pour ma part, je ne releve sucune traced influence dans ce poime, et seulement quelques traces incertaines dans.

‘The World and The Quietest, In Utramque Paratus et Consolation’,

  1. Bonnerot, Matthew Arnold Poite, (Paris, 1947), p.244.

35-Matthew Arnold, (ed.) Miriam Allott, (London, 1983).

36-Poetical Works, p.182.

37-Idem., p.176.

38-M.Hiriyanna, Art Experience, (Mysore, 1954), p.9.

39-GITA, p.1197.

40-Poetical Works, p.202.

41-Idem, 203.




45-idem, p.165.

46-idem., p.172.

47-idem., p.177.

48-GITA, p.906.

49-Poetical Works, p.147.

50-GITA, p.932.

51-Poetical Works, p.238.

52-Trilling, p.158.


54-Poetical Works, p.289.

55-idem., p.322.

56-idem., p.350.

57-idem., p.349.

58-GITA, pp. 968-79.

59-Poetical Works, p.364-65.

60-GITA, p.969.

61-idem., p.971.


63-Trilling, p.156.

64-H.C. Duffin, Arnold The Poet, (London, 1962), p.93.

65-Poetical Works, p.438.

66-GITA, p.923.

67-Poetical Works, p.440-41.

68-GITA, pp.881-82,



71-Poetical Works, p-498.

This description of an Indian sage recalls to mind Chaucer’s portrayal of the Parson in the following lines:

He konde, in litel thyng have suffissaunce,

Wyd was his parisshe, and houses for asonder,

But he ne lefte, for reyn ne thounder,

In sicknesse nor in mischief to visite,

The ferreste in his parishsshe muche and lite,

Upon his fet, and in his hand a staff.


The works of Geoffrey Chaucer (ed.), F.N.Robinson (London.1974.p.22.

72-Poetical Works. p.499.

73-GITA, p.900.

74-Poetical Works, p.150.

75-ibid., p.570.

76-J.W. Haver, Hibbert Journal, (London, 1940), p.341.

N.B. In this article, information has been gathered from different sources. Only comparisons and findings between the GITA and Arnold are mine. Interpretations of the GITA are collected from different sources.  It has been tried to give their sources but due to the shortage of space, some references are not given. Every effort has been made to trace the owners of copyrighted material, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked, the writer will be pleased to make necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.  It should be seen as an unintentional lapse. Kindly bear this omission.

In Case You Missed It:  Fed-up Trump calls on Congress to defund weaponized FBI, Justice Dept.
Posted in Freedoms.