Places: Sohrab and Rustum

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1853

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Antiquity

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedCentral Asia

Central Sohrab and RustumAsia. Scene of the battle between the forces of Persia and their Tartar enemies. Arnold wrote this poem in part to illustrate his theories concerning the superiority of the classical, objective, and affirmative epic over the Romantic, lyric, and melancholy poetry of his own time. By placing his poem in Central Asia, among Persians and Tartars, he achieves an emotional distance and objectivity that removes the poem from the Romantic intensity and lyrical sadness of the typical poetry of his age. Set in a distant and ancient place, the tragic tale of a warrior father who unwittingly kills his warrior son can be treated not as an occasion for sentimental tears but as an illustration of fate and its inevitability. Moreover, Arnold uses the places, landscapes, and customs of Central Asia as materials for the complex epic similes that are crucial to the poem’s epic style.

*Oxus River

*Oxus River. River upon whose plain Sohrab and Rustum fight. When Rustum slays Sohrab on the banks of the Oxus, Arnold ends with an elaborate and symbolic account of the Oxus, describing its origins, its troubled but continuous flow, and its final absorption into the tranquil Aral Sea. In this way, Arnold allows the setting of the action to comment on that action. Rustum’s killing of Sohrab is only one event in human destiny, which itself flows like a river. Human life persists, and every human life ends in the quiet Aral Sea of death.

BibliographyAbjadian, Amrollah. “Arnold and the Epic Simile.” Étude anglaises 42, no. 4 (October-December, 1989): 411-423. A rhetorical study of Arnold’s use of epic similies in “Sohrab and Rustum.”Cervo, Nathan. “‘Dover Beach,’ ‘Sohrab and Rustum,’ ‘Philomela,’ and ‘Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse.’ ” The Arnoldian 11, no. 1 (Winter, 1884): 24-31. Cervo discusses Arnold’s use of sea and stone imagery as they are related to the Oedipus complex.Gouws, John. “Matthew Arnold’s ‘Sohrab and Rustum.’ ” Notes and Queries 30 (August, 1983): 302. This note establishes Goethe as another author whom Matthew Arnold deeply admired. The way Arnold uses his sources demonstrates his practice of measuring his own poetry against “touchstones” from the great literature of the past.Roper, Alan. Arnold’s Poetic Landscapes. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969. Examines the degree to which Arnold achieves unity between human significance and literal landscape. In discussing “Sohrab and Rustum,” Roper focuses on the tragically fateful dichotomy in Rustum between the individual fulfillment of finding a son of who he can be proud and his public obligation to be a great warrior.Thorpe, Michael. Matthew Arnold. New York: Arco, 1969. Contains a comprehensive treatment of the poem and of the manuscript. Also analyzes specific images and includes a comparison of “Sohrab and Rustum” with Arnold’s other poems.
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