Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Thyrsis is a pastoral elegy written by Matthew Arnold to honor his friend Arthur Hugh Clough, who died in 1861. It is one of the greatest elegies in English literature, equal in stature to John Milton’s “Lycidas” (1638) and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonais (1821). Thyrsis is 240 lines long, divided into twenty-four ten-line stanzas. All the lines are in iambic pentameter, except the sixth line of each stanza, which is in iambic trimeter. The rhyme scheme for each stanza is abcbcadeed. The stanzaic form of Thyrsis is thus a slight variation on the ten-line stanza John Keats developed for his odes (“Ode to a Nightingale,” 1820, for example). Keats’s slightly different rhyme scheme is ababcdecde. The lines of Keats’s stanzas are in iambic pentameter, except for the eighth line, which like Arnold’s tenth is in iambic trimeter.
Clough and Arnold attended both Rugby School and Oxford University together, but while Clough was acknowledged as a bright star, Arnold was perceived as a dandy. It was not until his first volume of poems was published—a collection with a definite elegiac tone—that Arnold’s friends and family realized his extravagant style of dress was a mask he wore to face the alien Victorian world outside academia and to cope with having a famous father, the headmaster of Rugby. Clough did not do as well at Balliol College, Oxford, as at Rugby. He graduated with second-class...
(The entire section is 1366 words.)
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