There is nothing vague or ambiguous about Arnold’s conception of poetry. Arnold does not, indeed, clearly specify what he means by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. However, he does offer us hints in this connection. The more powerful the application of ideas to life is, the greater the resulting poetry is. A poet’s sincerity consists in his speaking from his very inmost soul; i.e. the accent of high seriousness.
Arnold quotes Voltaire who found the great merit of the English poets in their profound and énergique treatment of moral ideas in their poetry. The treatment of moral ideas in poetry means the same thing as the noble and profound application of ideas to life. Arnold interprets the word ‘moral’ in a very wide sense. Moral ideas are not to be interpreted here as a code of behaviour. The wide connotation which the word moral has for Arnold is clear from his saying that the question how to live is itself a moral code. The better part of criticism is appreciation, and poetry is a criticism of life in the sense that it shows us the greatness and beauty and wonder of life, poetry heightens life. Our senses get dulled by the routine of life, and the poet comes to interpret life afresh. The poet does not only appreciate and interpret life. The poet also creates life. Life itself is the raw material, crude and shapeless. In the hands of poet it becomes a lovely and significant thing. The function of the poet is to awaken wonder. Arnold’s own poetry, by its diction and movement, certainly gives great aesthetic pleasure. It also enormously enhances our appreciation of life, though it may not awaken wonder.