Write a comparasion between "The Lady of Shalott" and ''Thyrsis'' by Mathew Arnold.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[In 2 Parts]

There are many differences between "Thyrsis" by Matthew Arnold and "The Lady of Shalott" by Tennyson. One vivid one is the difference in variations of tension in the poetry. "Thyrsis" is reminiscent of Samuel Johnson's earlier poetry in which regularity of meter was a prime element of poetic aesthetic. Having this sort of regular meter, "Thyrsis" lacks variations in dramatic and emotional tension such as Tennyson achieves through the sounds of language articulated within a fixed yet fluid meter.

For instance, in the following excerpt from "Thyrsis," there are three places where the speaker's emotions might reasonably be expected to vary. The first line, which is an exclamatory, might reasonably be expected to have a quick cadence and a heightened emotion, whereas "with heavy heart" and "he went away" might reasonably be expected to have a slower cadence and saddened emotion. However, the cadence and tension are both uniform from line to line with no variartion. Emotion must be superadded by the reader's internal cognitive processes.

My pipe is lost, my shepherd's holiday!
Needs must I lose them, needs with heavy heart
Into the world and wave of men depart;
But Thyrsis of his own will went away.

By contrast, in the following excerpt for Tennyson's poem there are four places with differing emotions successfully expressed. The first line is jaunty. The second and third are pleasant and carefree. The fourth has heightened tension, a feeling of urgency and expectation. The fifth and sixth have a feeling of doom. This is accomplished through Tennyson's choices in diction. Emotion and tension are imbedded and are external experiences.

He flash'd into the crystal mirror,    
'Tirra lirra,' by the river    
Sang Sir Lancelot.    

She left the web, she left the loom,    
Out flew the web and floated wide;    
The mirror crack'd from side to side;     115

Arnold is often criticized for a dearth of emotion. This dearth, illustrated in the excerpts, is the result of uniformity in the sounds of the language as well as in the meter of the poetry. Tennyson utilized the sounds of English to create tension and varying emotions; he has this in common with Edmund Spenser. Arnold does not make use of this device.

Another difference between the two poems is that "Thyrsis" is in era-correct English while "The Lady of Shalott" uses an earlier form of English, e.g., flitteth, weaveth. In addition, Arnold's descriptors are of a flatter, less vivid quality, whereas Tennyson writes with energetic descriptors. Compare Arnold's:

And from the roofs the twisted chimney-stacks--
Are ye too changed, ye hills?
See, 'tis no foot of unfamiliar men

to a similar description of Tennyson's:

There the river eddy whirls,    
And there the surly village-churls,    
And the red cloaks of market girls,

Whereas with Arnold chimneys are "twisted" and hills are "ye," with Tennyson a river "eddy whirls." With Arnold, men are "unfamiliar," while with Tennyson girls have "red cloaks" and are "market girls." Further, Arnold has a lackluster central character.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Part 2]

Arnold introduces Thyrsis this way:

Here came I often, often, in old days--
Thyrsis and I; we still had Thyrsis then....
But Thyrsis of his own will went away.

It irked him to be here, he could not rest.
He loved each simple joy the country yields,

whereas Tennyson introduces his central character this way:

Four gray walls, and four gray towers,      15
Overlook a space of flowers,    
And the silent isle imbowers    
The Lady of Shalott....
But who hath seen her wave her hand?    
Or at the casement seen her stand?      25
Or is she known in all the land,    
The Lady of Shalott?

Perhaps the underlying difference between Arnold and Tennyson is Arnold's single-minded devotion to "truth and seriousness, in the matter and substance" of poetry, which positions him as the bridge from Romantic and Victorian poetry to modern poetry but which leaves his poetry devoid of the eye-widening, heart-racing dramatic tension found in Tennyson and their predecessor Spenser (or the good-natured seriousness found in Chaucer).