"The Scholer Gypsy" as a pastoral elegy.

Pastoral elegies has 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 flock of sheep. The essence of pastoral poetry is simplicity of thought and action in a rustic setting.

Perhaps Arnold's two best poems are “The Scholar Gipsy” and “Thyrsis”, which are generally labelled as pastoral elegies deeply steeping in classical lore. “The Scholar Gipsy”, ostensibly about a seventeenth century Oxford student who joined the gypsies to learn their lore is really about the poet himself and his generation. In the poem, the scholar gipsy 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 colouring are very much Arnoldian.

Pastoral Setting
Arnold creates a pastoral or rural setting in “The Scholar Gipsy” . The local colour of the poem is a charm of the pastoral elegy. The poem is set in the Oxford countryside which is vividly brought home to us, and it is made more beautiful and enchanting by the modifying colours of imagination. Green muffled Cumner hills and sloping pastures bright with sunshine and flowers, Stripling Thames at Bablock, hithe, with pleasure boats, Wychwood bowers bright with flowers, the Fyfield elm where maidens dance in May, flooded fields, the causeway and the wooden bridge, Bagley Wood where gypsies pitch their tents, sparkling Thames and Godstow Bridge, abandoned lasher where rustics bathe, constitute a real landscape around Oxford, made lovely with the magic touch, of poet's imagination. It forms an ideal setting for the spiritual presence of the Scholar Gipsy.

Reference to Shepherd
Arnold addresses the friend of the Scholar Gipsy after the pastoral convention. The poet asks his companion, a shepherd, to attend to the sheep and let loose them from the folds. Having discharged his duties, the shepherd is advised to come to him again in the evening. But Arnold has not identified himself with a shepherd like other pastoral poets. In the poem, his friend in quest, however, is a shepherd.

Pastoral in Structure

In the structure of the poem is no doubt pastoral; the fairly elaborate ten-line stanza helps to keep the movement of the poem slow and develop the note of introspection. The slow movement of the verse and the stately utterances of thought are in perfect keeping with the sad, philosophical mood of the poet. But, the tone of the poem has a modern touch; the spirit permeating the poem is typically Victorian the spirit of unrest seeking spiritual illumination.

Sense of Immortality

The elegy writer after lamenting the physical death of his friend would bring out the immortal qualities he possessed. The elegy always ends with a note of hope that the subject of lamentation is not really dead, but is alive. Arnold very aptly makes use of this conversation and establishes that the Scholar Gipsy will live forever. The Scholar Gipsy has one aim, one business, one desire-- the spiritual quest for truth. He has singleness of purpose. His singleness of purpose makes him immortal. “The Scholar Gipsy” in Arnold's modification of the pastoral elegy, not in a strict sense. The pastoral elements are found in the first half of the poem (stanzas 1-13) in the description of the Oxford countryside that is travelled by the scholer gypsy; the criticism of Victorian life in the second half where by a simple process of confrontation the scholar gipsy's happiness and singleness of mind are used to undermine what Arnold felt to be wrong in the own life and lives of his contemporaries.

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