Arnold's Pastoral Elegies
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Arnold's Pastoral Elegies Pastoral elegies had its origin in the classical poets of ancient Greece, viz, Theocritus, Bion and Moschus. It was lyric in character and dealt with the simple life of shepherds and their day to day occupations, such as singing with their oaten pipes in the flowery meadows, piping as though they would never be old, tending their folk of sheep. The essence of pastoral poetry is simplicity of thought and action in a rustic setting. Perhaps Arnold's two best-known poems are "The Scholar Gipsy" and "Thyrsis", which are generally labeled as pastoral elegies deeply steeping in classical lore. "The Scholar Gipsy", ostensibly about a seventeenth-century Oxford student who disappeared among the Gypsies is really about the poet himself and his generation, the scholar gypsy becomes a symbol in the light of which Arnold can develop his own position and state his own problems. Drawing on his knowledge of rustic scenes around Oxford, he produced a meditative pastoral poem whose language owes something to Theocritus but whose tone and emotional coloring are very much Arnoldian.
The idyllic picture of the countryside around Oxford compose the setting of this poem. Again there is a contrast between the sophisticated life of the civilized men and the uneventful, simple life of the shepherds who catch rare glimpses of the Scholar-Gipsy, and this contrast is a mark of pastoral poetry. Arnold has filled the landscape with humanity and its work with shepherd and reaper, hunters and oarsmen, dancing maidens and wandering youths. "Thyrsis", a pastoral elegy, written to commemorate Arnold's friend Arthur Hugh Clough, who had died in 1861, in closely linked to "The Scholar-Gipsy", though written many years after it. It has the same stanza form, the same general tone, it is set in the same Cumner country South-west of Oxford where Arnold and Clough had often worked together and it contains actual reference to "The Scholar-Gipsy", a favorite poem of Clough. Though the influence of the Greek pastoral poets is clearly discernable, i.e., written in the Theocritan pastoral convention, the poem is steeped in that same deep feeling for the English countryside that we find
But he hopes that "through the great town's harsh, heart-wearing roar" Thyrsis's voice will come to him, driving away fatigue and fear: "Let in thy voice a whisper often come; To chase fatigue and fear, 'Why fainest thou? I wandered till I died. Roam on! The light we sough is shining still. Dost thou ask proof? Our tree yet crowns the hill, Our Scholar travels yet the loved hill-side." [Thyrsis: Matthew Arnold] For the English people Arnold professed contempt; for English scenery he had conceived a passionate love, which inspired him to write passages of descriptive verse in a manner peculiarly his own, and with a power, which, in the special and limited field of its exercise, is unrivalled. In his elegiac verse he allows free play to the two strongest feelings of which he was capable, and it is the union of both in the same compositions, which constitutes the affecting truth and simple charm of this class of his poetry. Here he is most nearly a great poet, because he is most simply himself. Arnold's Pastoral Elegies - 1 -
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