“The Scholar-Gipsy” is a pastoral poem, in twenty-five ten-line stanzas, based on a legend recounted by Joseph Glanvill in The Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661). Matthew Arnold supplies the essential elements of the legend in lines 31 through 56 of the poem.
The poem opens on a pleasant August afternoon, with the poet-shepherd dismissing his companion shepherd to take care of his usual pastoral chores, bidding him to return at evening when the two will renew their quest. Meanwhile, the poet waits in a pleasant corner of a field filled with colorful flowers, lulled by the distant sounds of sheep and workmen; trees shield him from the sun as he looks down on the university town of Oxford.
The poet picks up Glanvill’s book and rereads the tale of the talented but poor scholar who left his studies at seventeenth century Oxford to learn the mystic secrets of the gypsies. Rumors persisted that the scholar was seen occasionally; in stanzas 7 through 13, the poet imagines that the scholar is still glimpsed by shepherds, by country boys, by Oxford riders returning on the ferry, by young girls, by reapers, by a housewife darning clothes at the open doorway of a lonely cottage, by the blackbird, even by the poet himself. These seven stanzas primarily evoke the pastoral countryside around Oxford.
Making a quick turn at stanza 14, the poet ceases to daydream and realizes that it has been two hundred years since Glanvill’s story and...
(The entire section is 518 words.)