The Scholar-Gypsy "Arts To Rule As They Desired"

Matthew Arnold

"Arts To Rule As They Desired"

Context: As in many of his works, Arnold in this poem is trying to teach the people of his age. He wanted men to have a better view of life, to understand the futility of meanness of mind, to understand the glory of living an enlightened life. In this poem he begins by having the narrator imagining himself on a hill above Oxford, on a summer day, looking down from a corner of a field to the towers of the university. Beside the speaker of the poem is a book, identifiable as Joseph Glanvil's Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661), in which is found the story of an Oxford student forced by his poverty to leave the university, whereupon he joins a band of gypsies. Arnold transforms the young man of Glanvil's tale into an ideal, a young man who rejects his own time and seeks higher goals. The fifth stanza of the poem relates how two of the scholar-gypsy's former fellow students met him in a country lane, how they asked him of his new life, and how he replied to them.

But once, years after, in the country-lanes,
Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
Met him, and of his way of life enquired;
Whereat he answered, that the gypsy-crew,
His mates, had arts to rule as they desired
The workings of men's brains,
And they can bind them to what thoughts they will.
"And I," he said, "the secret of their art,
When fully learn'd, will to the world unpart;
But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill."