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Home » , » Write a critical appreciation of Matthew Arnold's poem "The Scholar Gipsy"

" The Scholar Gipsy" is one of the famous poems of Matthew Arnold. The poem is based on an incident narrated in The Vanity of Dogmatizing by a seventeenth country poet Joseph Glanvill (1600-1661). It is one of Arnold representative poems. Arnold begins the poem in a pastoral mode but his criticism of the Victorian life becomes predominant towards the end of the poem. The poet infuses a note of sadness and an elegiac tone into this poem. 

Like Shelley's "Adonais", the poem has a pastoral setting. Arnold speaks of the reaper working in the field and the flocks bleating from a distant. There is also the description of the corn, " the scarlet poppies" and the "pale blue convolvulus". Arnold's classicism finds an expression when he asks the Shepherd to respond the call of the hill. The poet himself wishes that " Shepherd I will be". Lying in the lap of nature, the poet reads Glanvill's book. 

Arnold is fascinated by the story of the Scholar Gipsy. According to the story, an Oxford student abandoned the conventional path of material progress and went to live with the gypsies who wandered in the lap of nature. These Gypsies did not depend on the second hand knowledge of books; rather they had the direct contact with divine power. The Scholar Gipsy desired to know the secret knowledge of the gypsies. However, he had to wait for a particular moment to know this mystic art:

          And I" said " the secret of their art when fully learn'd, will to the world impart:  

But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill."In order to learn his special knowledge, the Scholar Gipsy walked here and there in the countryside. He loves natural objects so much that he has formed a harmonious link with them. Thus the blackbird is not afraid to see him, "nor stops his meal". Arnold is here of the opinion that the Scholar Gipsy lived almost two hundred years ago. That age was peaceful, calm and quite. People were not torn by doubt and uncertainty regarding religion. The Scholar Gipsy had " one aim, one business, one desire". He did not see the maladies of the present time. In contrast to the secure age of the Scholar Gipsy, Arnold's Victorian age has no definite values. This is the age when, as Arnold writes:

     ...each strives, nor knows for what he strives,  And each half lives a hundred different lives;

Victorian people have no definite aim. They shift from one ideal to another and, in that sense, they live a thousand different lives. Thus Arnold's expresses his sadness at the present condition of his society.

Arnold is so disgusted with the present society that he urges the Scholar Gipsy to fly from this age like the legendary Dido.

In "The Scholar Gipsy", Arnold introduces his own view of the present society. The society with its artificial and mechanical life is like a spiritual wasteland. Arnold's intellectual insight and prophetic vision combine to give this message to contemporary people. Arnold is successful too in use of language.

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