Pastoral Elegy into Romantic Lyric: Generic Transformation in Matthew Arnold's "Thyrsis"

Publication: Victorian Poetry
Author: Clausson, Nils
Date published: July 1, 2010

"The long history of English elegy is a pouring of fresh tears into ancient vessels." - John D. Rosenberg, Elegy for an Age1

"It is a commonplace that Arnold is an elegiac poet, but not everyone would agree on what is meant by this phrase."

- A. Dwight Culler, Imaginative Reason2

What kind of a poem is Matthew Arnold's "Thyrsis"? The answer has seemed self-evident ever since it was published in 1861: it is an elegy, more specifically a pastoral elegy, occasioned by the death of Arnold's friend and fellow poet Arthur Hugh Clough five years earlier in Florence. "Thyrsis" is the third of the three great pastoral elegies in English poetry, the other two being Milton's "Lycidas" and Shelley's "Adonais." But is "Thyrsis" a pastoral elegy in quite the same way that "Lycidas" and "Adonais" are.7 Over forty years ago, Richard Giannone was not sure that it is: "Thyrsis' is something of an anomaly among pastoral elegies," he wrote. "One could justifiably call it a pastoral elegy manqué in so far as Arnold stops considerably short of the kind of complete shaping of the poem according to the pastoral conventions one finds, say, in Spenser's November eclogue or Astrophel, or in 'Lycidas.'"3 Yet no one has followed up on Giannone's questioning of the poem's genre, which continues to seem self-evident to critics. In his still influential study of Arnold's poetry, A. Dwight Culler distinguishes "Thyrsis" from "The ScholarGipsy," to which it is frequently compared, by stressing its different generic identity: "The Scholar-Gipsy," he says, is "primarily a Romantic dream-vision which creates an ideal figure who lives outside of time, whereas [Thyrsis'] is an elegy about a human figure who lived in time and was thereby destroyed" (p. 250). David Riede discusses "Thyrsis" along with "The Scholar-Gipsy" under the heading "Pastoral and Elegy,"4 and in the most recent commentary on the poem, Patrick Connolly reiterates the poem's dependence on the "long ancestral line" of pastoral elegy: "As a poem 'Thyrsis' falls within the pastoral elegy form, though this may not be obvious at first reading. Consequently it is dependent on a long ancestral line of such poetry from Shelley and Milton to Moschus and Theocritus."5 This unproblematic classification of "Thyrsis" as a pastoral elegy has ensured that critics, by never looking at the poem from an alternative generic perspective, see only what they habitually expect to find in pastoral elegies instead of seeing what Arnold actually wrote.

"We often think of genre designation as one of the last acts a reader performs- and to some extent it is true that a work's precise generic placement is often unclear until we have finished reading it," says Peter Rabinowitz in Before Reading. "But some preliminary generic judgment is always required even before we begin the process of reading. We can never interpret entirely outside generic structures: 'reading'- even reading of a first paragraph- is always 'reading as.'"6 No poem, least of all one assumed to belong to so conventional a form as the pastoral elegy, stands "entirely outside generic structures," and so when we read "Thyrsis" as a pastoral elegy, it is difficult to avoid succumbing to the force of generic conventions, the recognition that it is one of a family of similar poems, and thus to be led very quickly from what the individual work is actually saying to what we assume the generic structure to which it belongs is saying through the work. On the other hand, there is no possibility of not reading intertextually, since no work exists entirely outside generic conventions. So the question "Thyrsis" presents, then, is not whether to read it intertextually- there is no choice other than to do so- but rather what poems constitute the most relevant and illuminating inter-texts? Or, to pose the question another way: what kind of poem is "Thyrsis" and in what generic tradition(s) does it participate? Without denying its indisputable affiliations with the pastoral elegy (with "Lycidas" as its most influential English representative) and with the broader pastoral tradition that "The Scholar-Gipsy" participates in, I propose to argue that the exclusive classification of "Thyrsis" as a pastoral elegy has prevented us from recognizing that it is, in fact, a generically mixed lyric that combines the conventions of the classical pastoral elegy with the new kind of poem we now identify as distinctively Romantic, the lyric genre that M. H. Abrams calls the greater Romantic lyric.7

Although the title and sub-title of "Thyrsis: A Monody, to Commemorate the Author's Friend, Arthur Hugh Clough, Who Died at Florence, 1861" create the expectation of a conventional pastoral elegy, the poem (as Giannone perceived) deviates noticeably from the classical paradigm exemplified by "Lycidas." It might just as appropriately have been titled, in imitation of Wordsworth or Shelley, "Elegiac Stanzas Written in the Cumner Hills." For what had intervened between the classically inspired "Lycidas" and Arnold's mid-Victorian elegy is, of course, Romanticism, which changed forever the landscape of English poetry. Given Arnold's widely acknowledged complex relationship to the Romantic poets, it should come as no surprise that his mid-Victorian elegy follows, even while it modifies, the structural pattern of Abrams' greater Romanic lyric. As numerous critics have observed, "Dover Beach" is a later instance of that form, and Michael O'Neill has recently pointed out that "A Summer Night" "owes much to the structure of what M. H. Abrams calls 'the Greater Romantic Lyric.'"8 What has not been noticed, however, is how thoroughly Arnold has integrated the structure of the Romantic lyric into his "pastoral elegy manqué." Rather than approaching "Thyrsis" as the last example of a form on the verge of extinction, then, I propose to read it as a generically mixed poem, one that experimentally fuses what appear to be two incompatible genres.

Although the elegy as a form has undergone renewed interest in recent decades, the position of "Thyrsis" in Arnold's poetic canon has declined over the same period. "During the past twenty years," says Melissa Zeiger in Beyond Consofótion, her study of the changing shapes of elegy from Swinburne to the present, "elegies have been more prolifically written, intensively studied, and resourcefully theorized than poems in practically any other traditional genre ___ Because of its privileged poetic status, elegy has been a primary site of critical renegotiation."9 This revival of interest in elegy as a "privileged" poetic genre has inexplicably overlooked, bypassed, or simply ignored "Thyrsis," which has received so little critical attention in recent decades that it seems doubtful whether it can still be regarded as one of Arnold's major poems. Peter Sacks is satisfied to give it only one and a half pages at the end of his chapter on Jn Memoriam in his major study of the English elegy.10 Even among Arnold's dwindling number of admirers, its position in his poetic canon has declined to the point that Alan Grob allows it less than a page in his recent study of Arnold's poetry, A Longing Like Despair: Arnold's Poetry of Pessimism (2002)." The only major analyses of it in the last twenty-five years are those by William E. Buckler in On the Poetry of Matthew Arnold: Essays in Critical Reconstruction (1982), by David G. Riede in Matthew Arnold and the Betrayal of Language (1988), and by W. David Shaw in Elegy & Paradox: Testing the Conventions (1994).12

A likely explanation for the decline of the poem's reputation is the widespread feeling among critics that by the time Arnold came to write a pastoral elegy in the second half of the nineteenth century, the form was outdated. Alastair Fowler's speculations about the death of literary genres in his essay "The Life and Death of Literary Forms" are particularly relevant to "Thyrsis": "Does a genre die when it ceases to be used? Or when it is no longer regarded with interest? Or when readers become insensitive to its form?"13 Although the pastoral elegy was not quite dead in 1866, after Arnold the genre quickly slipped from the repertoire of major poets, and serious readers of poetry no longer regarded it with interest. "In an age in which the Great Western Railway roared ever closer to the very center of Oxford," writes John Rosenberg, "pastoral had become an endangered species, threatening to collapse into potted Wordsworth or reheated Keats" (p. 149). Although many pastoral elegies would later be written to mourn soldiers killed in World War I, not a single one has survived as a canonical Great War poem. Owen's bitterly ironic "Anthem for Doomed Youth" answers to the modern requirements of an elegy. Yeats, after composing a pastoral elegy, "Shepherd and Goatherd," on the death of Robert Gregory, implicitly acknowledged the inappropriateness of the form by quickly composing "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory." If, as Fowler says, "the pastoral eclogue could not survive changes in the relation of town and country that followed urban development" (p. 207), it has seemed obvious to many poets as well as critics that neither could the pastoral elegy. "The old consoling formulae," as Peter Sacks observes, "now [i.e., post-War] seem not only obsolete but hypocritical. . . . Few poets of this century have even tried to write such a poem."14 One cannot imagine W. H. Auden writing his latemodern "Elegy on the Death of William Butler Yeats" (1939) in the antique form of a pastoral elegy, casting himself as Corydon and Yeats as Thyrsis.

If, however, we cease reading "Thyrsis" only as a pastoral elegy and instead read it as a transformation of the pastoral elegy into a Romantic lyric, the poem will seem less like a "throwback" to an earlier, antiquated form and more like what in fact it is- a mixed genre that subsumes the pastoral elegy within a new lyric genre that had attained its definitive form only sixty years earlier. "Since new works," writes Fowler, "often seem to mix existing types- successfully or unsuccessfully- many critical evaluations have to be in generic terms" (p. 203). One advantage of reading "Thyrsis" as a mixed genre is that doing so explains the two most common criticisms of the poem: that it focuses too much on Arnold and not enough on Clough, and that the ending does not provide the resolution readers expect from an elegy. These alleged weaknesses can be explained, and to some extent mitigated, by the poem's deliberate oscillation between its two genres, classical elegy and Romantic lyric. Clough is the central figure in the elegy proper, as Lycidas is in Milton's monody, but when "Thyrsis" is read as a Romantic lyric, with Clough playing the role of the silent auditor/addressee, as in one of Coleridge's conversation poems, Arnold is obviously the central figure. And finally, by changing the generic lens through which we view "Thyrsis," it may even be possible to reverse the decline in reputation the poem has suffered in recent years, as well as add to our understanding of how old genres are always being transformed into new ones.


The challenge facing Arnold as he composed "Thyrsis"- how to successfully combine two seemingly incompatible genres, classical elegy and Romantic lyric- arose from the question of whether a classical form, such as the pastoral elegy, could still be written in the middle of the nineteenth century. This question is anticipated by the unexpected presence, in the first stanza, of the realistic reference to the two towns of North and South Hinksey, which are significantly mentioned before the conventional, and hence expected, reference to the pastoral setting of the Cumnor hills near Oxford. In the first of Arnold's many deviations from the inherited pattern of the pastoral elegy, the opening lines juxtapose the poetic past, connoted by the classical name Thyrsis (a character not seen in a major English poem since Pope's Pastorals) with the urban present, represented by the two Hinkseys, which have undergone major changes since Arnold and Clough were undergraduates. As the reader later discovers, Arnold has changed too- the painful awareness of change and the attendant sense of loss are primary themes of the poem- and so the broader question that Arnold has to address is how he, or any poet, can today write poems that, while remaining true to the tradition going back through Milton to classical Greece, will be read in the two Hinkseys, whose changes since Arnold attended Oxford are a metonym for the larger changes transforming English society.

Since Arnold, as Antony Harrison says, "is the most pervasively intertextual of Victorian poets,"15 it is not surprising that, to solve the formal problem of how to write a modern classical elegy, Arnold should have turned to a precedent. Over a century earlier, Thomas Gray successfully combined the conventional funeral elegy with the new lyric poem of meditation and description, of which Robert Blair's The Grave (1743) was a typical example, to create one of the most famous and most quoted poems in English, the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." As Anne Williams has shown in her illuminating study Prophetic Strain: The Greater Romantic Lyric in the Eighteenth Century, Gray's "Elegy" is a transformation of the funeral elegy into lyric whose form is "closely akin to 'the greater Romantic Lyric'" as defined by M. H. Abrams.16 And so when Arnold came to write "Thyrsis," he had a celebrated and successful model of how to fuse classical elegy with modern lyric. The relevant inter-texts for an appreciation of Arnold's experiment in lyric form, then, are Gray's "Elegy Written in Country Churchyard," rather than "Lycidas," and the Romantic lyric typified by Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" and Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," rather than "The Scholar-Gipsy."17

The generic imprint of Gray's "Elegy" on "Thyrsis" is clearly discernible, even more than that of Milton's "Lycidas." Although Gray's famous poem- certainly more widely read and probably more influential in the century after its composition than "Lycidas"- was published by Gray himself as "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," it was entitled "Stanza's [sic] Written in a Country Church-yard" when published in 1751 in the Magazine of Magazines, and the manuscript bears the title "Stanzas Wrote in a Country Chuchyard." But, as Williams has pointed out, "to the eighteenth-century reader familiar with Lycidas, this [Elegy] would have seemed a considerable departure from the familiar conventions" (p. 95). Although the death of Richard West may have prompted its composition, there is no equivalent of Lycidas in the poem. Nor is there a procession of mourners, a catalogue of flowers, or a refrain of lamentation. And, most unexpectedly, the "Elegy" ends with the elegist imagining his own death. For Williams, the genre of Gray's "Elegy" is not nearly as stable as the "accepted meaning" of elegy suggests today. In the first half of the eighteenth century, she says, the word "elegy" was an "imprecise term" in the process of becoming more precise:

In 1712 [Joseph] Trapp wrote that "this Sort of poem was anciently, and from its first Origin, made use of at Funerals, that therefore, of one famous Elegiac Poet upon the death of another, of equal Fame." But Trapp goes on to explain that the genre is not limited to this theme and situation, for elegies often concern love as well as death. . . . Nor is the elegy necessarily limited to expressions of sorrow, though those "full of Joy and Triumph," are, he believes "improperly rank'd in the Number of Elegies." The "chief Property is to be easy and soft; to flow in one even current, and to captivate the ear with melody." And of course when we look back to such earlier instances of the "elegy" as those found in Donne, we recognize that we are dealing with a highly flexible generic label, though Trapp's efforts at definition may show that the term, like "sonnet," is in the process of narrowing and stabilizing its accepted meaning. (Williams, p. 97)

Gray's "Elegy," Williams argues, consists of three "divergent poems" intertwined within one another: "a graveyard meditation, a reflection upon the universal human desire to be remembered after death, and an elegy proper, a funeral celebration (as Trapp put it) 'on the death of one poet by another of equal merit'" (p. 100).

The first of these three poems "is a conventional graveyard meditation on the theme of human mortality" (p. 100). The first few stanzas, which she entitles "Meditation Among the Tombs," give only a faint hint that the poem is going to be a formal elegy in the tradition of "Lycidas." "The first of the three principal sttands woven into the fabric of [Gray's] Elegy" says Williams, "concerns the universal human fate, death" (p. 101). As numerous commentators have pointed out, these stanzas align the poem as much with the popular Graveyard School of descriptive-meditative poetry as with formal elegy. "Much evidence," she says, "compels the conclusion that the Ekgy is, fundamentally, a lyric" (p. 96), and she presents three convincing reasons for regarding it as "closely akin" to Abrams' greater Romantic lyric: "The establishment in the introductory stanzas of an acutely sensitive mind recording the minute particulars, physical and expressive, of the scene before it; the psychologically associative mode of organization throughout the poem; a conclusion that is best understood as the completion of an emotional rather than a narrative or logical pattern" (p. 104). The opening stanzas are generically much more compatible with the new meditative graveyard poem than with the conventional elegy, a fact confirmed by Gray's original title, "Stanzas Wrote in a Country Churchyard." According to Williams, "the second 'poem,' which one might name ? Meditation on the Universal Human Desire for Earthly Memorials,' is corollary to the first theme, the universality of death" (p. 102). The third poem is "more clearly than the others a version of pastoral elegy," and it "consists of two parallel narratives: the first celebrates the lives and deaths of the anonymous villagers; the second, the life and death of the anonymous poet whose epitaph concludes the poem" (p. 102).

Arnold transforms Gray's "graveyard meditation on the theme of human mortality" (p. 100) into a meditation, amidst the Cumnor hills, on the theme of change. For Arnold the death of Clough provides an opportunity to meditate on the inescapability of change in human life and on how to respond to this fate: "How changed is here each spot man makes or fills!"18 While Arnold's poem, like Gray's, does include an "elegy proper," it is also, like Gray's, a generically mixed poem. Its title- "Thyrsis: A Monody, to Commemorate the Author's Friend, Arthur Hugh Clough, Who Died at Florence, 1861"- is as misleading as Gray's, for it creates the expectation of a pastoral elegy, an expectation it does not fulfil. Perhaps one of the reasons that the similarities between the two poems have been overlooked is that Gray's description of the "parting day" in the opening lines of his "Elegy" is delayed in "Thyrsis." Although "Thyrsis" does open with "an acutely sensitive mind recording the minute particulars, physical and expressive, of the scene before it," it is not until half way through the poem that Arnold evokes the same mood as the famous opening stanza of Gray's "Elegy":


These lines, especially the last, reverberate with the famous opening of the "Elegy":


Arnold later in the poem returns to his description of the approaching dusk:


Toward the end of "Thyrsis" dusk is falling, and just as it is in the opening lines of the "Elegy," Arnold describes "the sunset, which doth glorify / The orange and pale violet evening-sky" (11. 158-159), and his description of the approaching eve continues:


The verbal echoes of Gray in this section of Arnold's poem are too many to be purely coincidental, although they may very well be unconscious. Arnold was a notoriously allusive poet, and "Thyrsis" conforms to his customary poetic practice. Gray's curfew sounding the "knell of parting day" finds an echo in the sound of Arnold's "cuckoo's parting cry" (1. 57); Gray's ploughman plodding "homeward" (1. 3) parallels Arnold's fox hunters returning "home" (1. 153); and Arnold's "wandering" (1. 177) repeats Gray's "wandering" (1. 11). Gray's "rugged elms" (1. 13), which long outlive the "rude forefathers" (1. 16) buried under them, find a counterpart in Arnold's enduring "signal-elm" (1. 14), which becomes the poem's symbol of permanence amid inevitable change. The fox-hunters implied by the "echoing horn" (1. 19) in the fifth stanza of Gray's "Elegy" have their counterpart in Arnold's "troop of Oxford hunters" (1. 153). And finally, Gray's "mute inglorious Milton" (1. 59) finds an echo in Arnold's description of the "mute" Clough after his shepherd's pipe "failed" him (1. 226). Of course, by themselves these verbal echoes are scarcely proof of the intertextual relationship between the two poems. But when they are placed in the larger context of the structural, generic and thematic similarities between the two poems, it is hard to dismiss them as mere coincidences. Although Abrams cites Coleridge's "Eolian Harp" as the prototype of the Romantic lyric, Williams clearly shows that its structure is evident half a century earlier in Gray's "Elegy." If, she says, we approach the poem

looking for intuitive associations rather than arguments or prose rhythms, perhaps the poem's structure and its evocative appeal will begin to explain themselves. The fact is that the Ekgy, like many such poetic meditations as "Frost at Midnight," is organized primarily so as to trace the subtle movements of a particulatized and ptecisely located consciousness, (p. 96)

The poem's associative, meditative structure no doubt partly explains its popularity with nineteenth-century readers, who could read it the same way they read their favorite Romantic poems. The "Elegy" opens with a description of a natutal scene viewed from the country churchyard by a particularized and precisely located consciousness, followed by an extended reflection or meditation on the universal problem of human mortality, leading back, in the final stanzas, to the graveyard in which, by way of resolution, the speaker imagines himself buried and memorialized by a poet who will do for the speaker what he has just done for the "rude forefathers" buried in the churchyard. "Thyrsis," which follows a similar pattern of description, meditation, resolution, is thus as indebted to Gray's "Elegy" as it is to "Lycidas."


But the ptecedent Gray's "Elegy" provided for combining elegy and lyric was a distant one; the more proximate model fot the associative, meditative structure of "Thyrsis" is the greater Romantic lyric, which, as defined by Abrams, consists of a tri-partite structure: (i) the particularized description of a natural scene by a sensitive and usually solitaty obsetvet; (ii) an extended reflection or meditation, which the scene stimulates, and which may be focused on a private problem, or a universal situation, or both, leading to (iii) an insight or vision, a resolution or decision, which signals a return to the scene originally described, but with a new perspective created by the intervening meditation. The same tri-partite structure found in the greater Romantic lytic- description, meditation, resolution- is clearly discernible in "Thyrsis." The opening lines present a sensitive, perceptive observer in a particularized landscape, the Cumnor hills near Oxford, followed by his meditation on both a personal and a general problem, although to some extent these parts overlap and some of the description is delayed until later in the poem. The personal problem is Arnold's loss of his poetic voice as, in recent years, he has more and more turned away from poetry to social criticism. The return visit to the Cumnor hills, a locale associated with the beginnings of Arnold's and Clough's careers as poets, makes Arnold painfully aware of his eatlier dedication to poetry. The more general problem he addresses is the question of how any poet can write poetty in an age so inimical to the poetic spirit, and the question of the kind of poetry the age requires, questions that Arnold had been addressing in his prose, beginning with the Preface to Poems (1853) over a decade earlier. As Riede comments, "The elegy modulates into a generalized lament about living in a poetryless time and place, far from the mythic landscape of Sicily" (p. 150).

Since Williams briefly compares Gray's "Elegy" to Coleridge's conversation poem "Frost at Midnight," it will prove especially illuminating to compare Coleridge's poem, which Abrams calls "one of the masterpieces of the greater lyric," to "Thyrsis." According to Abrams, "Frost at Midnight" "greatly enlarges and subtilizes" the pattern Coleridge established in "The Eolian Harp":

What seems at first impression to be the free association of its central meditation turns out to have been called forth, qualified, and controlled by the opening description, which evokes the strangeness in the familiar surroundings of the solitary and wakeful speaker. ... In consonance with these elements . . . the meditative mind disengages itself from the physical locale, moves back in time to the speaker's childhood, still further back, to his own infancy, then forward to express, in the intonation of a blessing, the hope that his own son shall have the life in nature that his father lacked; until, in anticipating the future, it incorporates both the present scene and the results of the remembered past in the enchanting close. (Abrams, p. 81)

It is quite astonishing how closely Arnold's meditation coincides with Coleridge's process of thought, and how it, too, is instigated and controlled by the description of the natural scene. In particular, I want to call attention to the similar shifts in time in the two poems and their similar significance for the two speakers. Arnold's mind, like Coleridge's, "disengages" from the "winter-eve" (1. 16) of the narrative present described in the opening stanzas and "moves back in time": to "the jocund youthful time" (1. 218) when Arnold and Clough attended Oxford together, began to write poetry, and wandered over the bucolic Cumnor hills; to Arnold's and Clough's departures from Oxford; to the more distant time when the Scholar-Gipsy was alive; to the golden age of pastoral, including Theocritus, whom Arnold re-read while composing "Thyrsis," and the pastoral world of "Lycidas"; and finally to the time when men really were shepherds, and to the even more distant mythical age of Orpheus and Daphnis. The poem then concludes prospectively, as does "Frost at Midnight," with Arnold anticipating future times when, "through the great town's harsh, heart-wearying roar" (1. 234), he will hear Clough's inspiring "voice [in] a whisper often come" (1. 235), just as Coleridge imagines his infant son will enjoy the life in nature denied to him.

As in the prototypical Romantic lyric, the description of the scene in the first two stanzas of "Thyrsis"- "Childsworth Farm," "the high wood," "Ilsley Downs," "The Vale, the three lone weirs, the youthful Thames," "The tender purple spray on copse and briers" (11. 11-18)- leads to a disturbing problem: Arnold cannot accept the changes he perceives around him and interprets them as an irreparable loss. Initially, Clough's death is also perceived as yet one more instance of these changes, and like the others, interpreted as a loss. By a process of association like the one in "Frost at Midnight," these losses are linked to Arnold's loss of the power to write poetry: "Ah me! this many a year / My pipe is lost, my shepherd's holiday!" (11. 36-37). "The real source of despair in this part of the poem," as Riede observes, "is the loss of poetic power" (p. 150). And, most importantly, his loss of poetic power is associated with his loss of a sustaining connection to the Cumnor landscape: "Now seldom come I, since I came with him" (1. 25).

Arnold's doubt and despair reach their nadir in the stanza beginning at line 131:


The opening lines of this stanza likely allude to Dryden's elegy on another young poet dead ere his prime, "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham," which ends, "And death and gloomy night encompass thee around." But the lyrical trajectory of the poem, like that of "Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode," moves from doubt and a sense of loss to resolution and to an affirmation of the next stage of Arnold's life. In the antepenultimate stanza, Arnold returns, like the speakers in many Romantic poems, to the landscape that began the meditation, a return that leads to a resolution:


Yet it is precisely this resolution and affirmation that has troubled Arnold's critics.

The concluding stanzas, especially the last one, are perplexing in part because they form the conclusion of both the elegy and the Romantic lyric that together comprise the poem. "The elegy, especially in its pastoral version," says Culler, "has many conventions but none so necessary to its structure as that whereby the poet, toward the end of his lament, suddenly discovers that the person whom he is mourning is not dead but in some sense lives on" (p. 234). Culler then cites several famous examples. Bion, in his "Lament for Adonis," suddenly calls upon Cypris to weep no more, for Adonis is lovely in death and, in an allusion to the dying god of myth, affirms that he will be wept another year. And in "Lycidas" Milton ends the elegiac lament, "Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime," and implores the "woeful Shepherds" to "weep no more, / For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead."20 And in "Adonais" Shelley reverses the elegiac movement of the poem with the exclamation: "Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep- / He hath awakened from the dream of life"21 "Whether based upon the pagan conception of the dying god or on the Christian faith in immortality," says Culler, "this convention affotds to the elegist the essential means of both artistic and philosophic reconciliation" (p. 235). But it is the conclusion to "Thyrsis" that prompted the strongest criticism of the poem on both artistic and philosophic grounds.

Walter Savage Landor once called the epitaph that concludes Gray's "Elegy" "a tin kettle tied to the tail of a noble dog," and many critics have been equally unhappy with the ending of "Thyrsis." Culler believes that it "would be a better poem" if Arnold had excised the last thtee stanzas. "Poetically," he says "it is awkwatd to have Thyrsis voice the very words which in the poem he could not hear, and one has the feeling that Arnold, in his desire, perhaps, to do right by his friend, was led to do wrong by his poem" (pp. 262-263). In Petet Sacks' view, '"Thyrsis' neither has ecstatic moments of visionary communion with the dead nor prefigures a world of revealed permanence. Even more markedly than the conclusion of In Memoriam, Arnold's poem fails to close the distance between the mourner and a remote state or even sign of consolation" (p. 202). David Riede offers an even harsher judgment. "The projected voice of Thyrsis," he says, "is another of the echoes in the void that Arnold claims to hear when he most needs reassurance, but in this case it is a phantom voice speaking in blatantly bad faith" (p. 155). He concludes his analysis of the poem with this criticism:

But the tension between the idea of wandering and the poetic enactment of purposeful seeking pulls the poem apat t into contradictions, bad faith, and an unworkable Humpty Dumpty language of wish fulfillment. Arnold's best poetry comes about from an acceptance of the wilderness as wilderness, and of wandering as the inevitable existential condition of modern humanity. But in "Thyrsis" he wants proof that "The light ... is shining still" and he turns the wilderness into a sanctified landscape and the poetic wandering into a forced march. His language and logic show the strain, and "Thyrsis" becomes a moving poem more for its poignant failure to do what poetry in an agnostic age cannot do than fot its forced and false success in achieving a redemptive vision, (p. 156)

This is a formidable critique of the poem and, if true, justification for its declining reputation But is it true?

The severe criticism of the ending, in my view, arises not from the failure of Arnold to achieve a redemptive vision or visionary communion, but from the failure of his critics to perceive the way in which the two primary genres of the poem- pastoral elegy and the Romantic lytic of self-analysis- produce the tensions and dissonances that they misinterpret as outright contradictions. Both Riede's analysis and his evaluation of the poem, for example, are based on his claim that its genre, pastoral elegy, largely determines what Arnold can and cannot say about Clough:

Arnold's evident desire to strengthen his poem with the great tradition [of elegy] is, of coutse, clear not only in the choice of fotm, the conventional title, and the various convenings of pastoral elegy, but in the subtitle as well, a recollection of the heading of "Lycidas": "A MONODY, to commemorate the authot's friend, ARTHUR HUGH CLOUGH, who died at Florence, 1861." "Lycidas" is famous for its omission of Edward King, and its formal use of pastoral elegy for more general concerns, so Arnold's invocation of it is particularly appropriate- he felt that "not enough is said about Clough" in the elegy, but he "was carried irresistibly into this form." The poetic form, not the occasion or the meaning of the event, dictates what Arnold will say- Clough, in himself as he really was, is effaced even as he is memorialized, (p. 149)

Riede sees a connection between Arnold's reliance on "the convenings of pastoral elegy" and his "views about the saving powet of the tradition [of literature]," views which Riede finds similar to those expressed by T S. Eliot in his famous essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent," from which he quotes. But in focusing so heavily on the classical ttadition of the pastoral elegy invoked by Arnold, Riede completely ovetlooks the other ttadition- the lytical ttadition of Romanticism- that is just as important in the poem. If the poem had been called "Lines Composed a Few Miles from Oxford on Revisiting the Cumner Hills, November 10, 1865," I suspect that critics would be less inclined to overlook the poem's profound indebtedness to the Romantic tradition, particulatly to Wotdswotth, fot whom Arnold composed an elegy in 1850. (One of the reasons for this ovetsight, I suspect, is that the greater Romantic lyric, as inaugurated by "The Eolian Harp," "Frost at Midnight," and "Tintern Abbey," quickly became synonymous with the lyric itself and consequently was not, like the pastoral elegy or Pindaric ode, perceived as a distinct genre with its own set of conventions.)

Like so many Romantic and Victot ian poems (as well as autobiogtaphies and novels), "Thytsis" is about loss and gain. What has been lost is the youthful vision of the natural world enjoyed by Arnold and Clough when they wandered (a word frequently repeated in the poem) over the Cumnor hills two decades earlier, and, particularly for Arnold, the power to see that landscape through the same eyes he had back then: "Only, methinks, some loss of habit's power / Befalls me wandering through this upland dim" (U. 21-22; italics added). The opening of the poem of course echoes the opening lines of "Tintern Abbey"- both poems, like Yeats's "Wild Swans at Coole," are about a man returning to a landscape after years of absence- but "Thyrsis" also parallels Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode" in its lament of the loss of a former "habit's power."22 Reading "Thyrsis" exclusively as a pastoral elegy, Riede interprets the difference between the Cumnor hills then and now in terms of its generic conventions:

Having denied the continuing validity of the pastoral tradition and turned to supposedly personal experience, the speaker finds himself defining personal experience in terms of that tradition. What follows is a reprise of the ubi sunt formula: "Where is the girl ... ? Where are the mowers . . .? They are all gone, and thou [Thyrsis] art gone as well!" (11. 121-30). And this is followed by the most apparently personal section of the poem, a despairing account of the speaker's own loss of youth, (p. 151)

Riede sets up the personal against the conventionality of the pastoral form, but the personal elements of the poem- Arnold's own loss of youth and poetic creativity- are the conventional themes of many Romantic lyrics, including the "Immortality Ode " and Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode." And the uhi sunt formula is not a distinctly pastoral convention; its presence in "Thyrsis" more likely derives from the opening stanzas of Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode," a poem in which Wordsworth also explores the "loss of habit's power":


Like Wordsworth's "Ode," "Thyrsis" opens in a pastoral landscape, and both speakers emphasize their awareness of how that landscape has changed from previous visits, leading to a sense of irreparable loss. Returning to his beloved Cumnor hills, Arnold, like Wordsworth, can say, "But yet I know, where'er I go, / That there hath passed away a glory from the earth" (11. 17-18). Shaw argues that Arnold's questions -"Where is the girl ... ? Where are the mowers?"- are allusions to the mourners who conventionally attend the dead poet's funeral, like Byron and Moore in "Adonais," but are absent from "Thyrsis" (p. 40). But if Arnold's elegy is read as a Romantic lyric, then his questions echo the similar questions asked by Wordsworth in the "Immortality Ode": "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?" (11. 56-57).

There is even a tree in Wordsworth's poem- "But there's a Tree, of many one" (1. 51)- the counterpart of Arnold's much-maligned signal-elm. Critics are as unhappy with Arnold's solitary signal-elm as they are with the last three stanzas. "Arnold sees the elm tree," says Sacks, as the "emblem" of the survival of the visionary Scholar-Gipsy,

and hence of Arnold's own survival as a questing poet. But although the tree stands as the figure of survival, Arnold cannot reach it. His power is diminished by a personified nightfall, which, like age, "In ever-nearing circle weaves her shade," "let[ting] down her veil" between the poet and the object of his quest . . . : 'I cannot reach the signal-tree tonight.' (p. 202)

Alan Roper complains that the elm tree is an "arbitrary sign, an allegorical object in a literal landscape."24 Riede also complains that the symbolism of the tree "is . . . arbitrary; it depends entirely on a youthful fancy, wishful thinking, and a stipulative definition" (p. 153). But these objections disappear when Arnold's symbolic signal-elm is read in the generic context of similar natural objects in Romantic lyrics- from Wordsworth's daffodils and old leech-gatherer to Keats' nightingale to Hardy's darkling thrush to Hopkins' windhover to Yeats's wild swans- each of which is first observed in a natural setting and then meditated upon. Why Arnold "cannot reach the signal-tree tonight" (1. 165) is the obvious question. He can not reach it tonight- nor any other night or day- because even though in one sense it is the same tree he and Clough saw in their youth, it is really not the same tree, any more than Wordsworth's "Tree" (both significantly are capitalized) is the same tree he saw years ago "appareled in celestial light": it, too, has lost its "visionary gleam." The signal-elm is indeed an emblem of permanence in a world of change, but its emblematic power is not, as Arnold's critics seem to think, based on its survival into the present, but on its power as a remembered object.

Arnold's signal-elm functions in his poem analogously to Wordsworth's daffodils in his. The daffodils that count for Wordsworth in the present of the poem are not the ones that he and Dorothy actually encountered on their walk on April 15, 1802, but the daffodils that his memory conjures up two years later when, alone in his room and far away from the original daffodils, which have long since faded, he recalls them, and his "heart with pleasure fills / And dances with the daffodils" ("I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," 11. 23-24). Similarly, the elm tree that counts for Arnold and that will continue to inspire him is not an actual elm tree but the recollection of what the tree meant to him and Clough years ago, before both of them left Oxford. That tree, the tree that had such symbolic "powet" for Arnold and Clough more than two decades ago because of its association with their "jocund" lives (1. 218) then, is not the tree that in 1865 (or whenever he revisited the Cumnor hills) Arnold glimpses only dimly in the dusk, and from afar, on the distant hill, which he declines to climb. The tree that functions as a "signal" is the one he remembers, the tree that he associates with Clough and with their "jocund youthful" wanderings (1. 218) amidst the "golden" Cumnor hills (1. 219). And it is that tree, the one that can never be physically reached because it can only be remembered, which will continue to inspire him long aftet he leaves Oxford and travels, we may suppose, back to London on that powerful symbol of change in mid-Victorian England, the Great Western Railway, returning to the city's "harsh, heart-wearying roar" (1. 234). And when, through that harsh roar he will some day hear Clough's "voice . . . come, / To chase fatigue and feat" away (11. 235-236), that voice will be coming not from the Valley of the Arno in Italy, where Clough lies buried and so cannot hear Arnold's exclamation, "Heat it, O Thyrsis, still our tree is there!" (1. 171), but rathet from Arnold's own memory, his recollection of Clough's youthful voice as he heard it years ago while they wandered over the same Cumnot hills, though changed, that Arnold wanders one last time "tonight."


The key to understanding and judging "Thyrsis" is the relation between the two genres- pastoral elegy and Romantic lytic- that comprise it. Failure to understand that relation has led to misinterpretation and, as a corollary, misjudgement of it. (Not only how we interpret a work but also how we evaluate it is often inseparable from the kind of work we read it as.) The failure to discern the two separate genres in the poem results, for example, in Culler's remark that "a hundred lines aftet the beginning of the poem we get an elegy within an elegy which has as its purpose to determine whethet the elegist can sing" (p. 257). But there is no elegy within an elegy in "Thyrsis." The elegist's concern with his own poetic powers is not a digression within an elegy primarily about Clough, but rather the subject of the whole poem when it is read as a Romantic lyric. The problem that ctitics have with "Thyrsis" is that they rightly perceive that Clough is only the nominal subject of a poem that is really more about Arnold than Clough, and that Clough's death is not a problem for Arnold in the way that Hallam's is for Tennyson. This I take to be what Stefan Collini is getting at when he obsetves that "the poem is less an elegy for a dead friend, than a lament for a lost youth, the poet's own youth" (p. 34). But judgments like this tend to imply the poem is at fault. I would tum Collini's implied criticism of the poem into an explicit tecommendation on how to read it: instead of reading it as an elegy for Clough, we should read it pr imarily as a greater Romantic lyric occasioned by the death of Clough, in which Arnold, following the models created by Wordsworth and Coleridge, laments his lost "power" and, like Wordsworth in the "Immortality Ode," accepts the "death" of his youthful self, and sets a new course in life, in pursuit of a new incarnation of the "fugitive and gracious light" that he and Clough once sought.

In his brilliant essay on "Lycidas," Notthrop Frye makes a remark that is particularly pertinent to understanding "Thyrsis." In pastoral elegies, says Frye, the poet whose death is mourned is often "a kind of double or shadow"25 of the elegist, so that in writing about the deceased poet the elegist is also writing about himself.26 What Arnold does- and this, I would argue, is his major innovation to the elegy- is to separate into two genres what in earlier elegies, such as "Lycidas," had been a doubling within a single, unitaty genre. Arnold's double mourning in "Thyrsis"- of Clough and of his own former self- is achieved by a splitting of the traditional pastoral elegy into two genres. Whereas Clough's death is mourned primarily through the conventions of the pastoral elegy, the "death" of Atnold's youthful vision and poetic voice ate mourned within the conventions of the greater Romantic lyric, a form which, since Wordsworth and Coleridge, had become the primary poetic vehicle for just this kind of self-analysis, and which Arnold superimposes, like a palimpsest, upon the earlier form of the pastoral elegy, just as Gray had grafted the new descriptive-meditative graveyard poem onto the oldet funeral elegy.

The particular type of Romantic lyric that Arnold appropriates in "Thyisis" is represented by Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey, "Immortality Ode" and "Elegiac Stanzas," as well as by "Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode." All of these poems deal in some way with change, with the loss of an earlier, youthful view of nature and the world, or of the self and its relation to the world, and its replacement with a mature vision of life that takes into account "the still, sad music of humanity" ("Tintern Abbey," 1. 91). I do not wish to suggest, of course, that Arnold is reproducing the specific content of these poems, their particulai fotmulations of that change from an earlier stage of life to a later one- he was profoundly ambivalent about the Romantics- but rather that he tut ns to the form of these lyrics as the only available poetic form answerable to his needs as a poet addressing, more than half a century later, his own problems. The reason that Arnold can fuse these two genres, or at least attempt to, is that they shate a common pattern, embryonically present in Gray's "Elegy," of following the human mind as it grapples with a problem- death or loss- and then arrives at some sense of consolation, resolution, or acceptance. As Arnold's "ave atque vale," his farewell to his dead friend and to his former youthful self, "Thyrsis" participates in, through the classic and Romantic genres it combines, the two great poetic traditions of the West.

"English elegy," says John Rosenberg in his recent book Elegy for an Age, "is a laying to rest of ghosts" (p. 5). By critically assessing Clough's disappointing career as a poet and by explaining (at least to his own satisfaction) the reasons for his friend's failure, Arnold is essentially laying to rest the ghost of his own youthful self, which in the poem is closely identified with Clough. (Whether his assessment of Clough is inaccurate or unfair, as some have charged, is ultimately irrelevant to his purpose in the poem.) In "Thyrsis" Arnold lays to rest the twin ghosts of Clough's failure to live up to the promise of his youth and his own failure to become a great poet, so that he can accept the new tasks of a mature middle age. "To be an authentic poet was [Arnold's] great spiritual ambition," says William Buckler, "and he abandoned the practice of poetry only after that practice itself had taught him what his limitations were and had processed him to the clear recognition that he could be a great adjunct to poetry rather than a great poet" (p. 14). "Thyrsis" is Arnold's candid assessment of both his own and his friend's careers as poets, and an affirmation of his intention still to pursue "a fugitive and gracious light"- but that light will not be the light of poetry but of socially engaged criticism. Arnold's phrase almost certainly echoes two similar phrases, one in Milton and one in Wordsworth. In the Invocation to Book III of Paradise Lost the blind Milton affirms that his lost physical sight will be replaced by divine illumination: "So much rather thou Celestial Light/ Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers / Irradiate" (11. 51-53). In Stanza 9 of the "Immortality Ode" Wordsworth exclaims that the "Celestial Light" of the child's imaginative vision yet survives into adulthood:

O joy! That in our embers

Is something that doth live,

That nature yet remembers

What was so fugitive! (U. 132-135)

Arnold's echo of these two passages links his "loss of habit's power" (1. 22) with the losses of both Milton and Wordsworth. And just as their losses were compensated by a gain, so Arnold's loss of the power to write poetry, a power associated with his and Clough's youth amid the Cumnor hills, will, he believes, be compensated for by a gain corresponding to Milton's and Wordsworth's: a new power to write social criticism. He had already published the first series of Essays in Criticism the previous year, and the following year he would begin Culture and Anarchy. As Alan Grob remarks, by 1866 "it was obvious that Arnold already plainly understood that if he was to serve the needs of 'the complaining millions of men' who 'darken in labour and pain,' it would not be through his poems. ... It was through this great and growing body of prose that Arnold now knew he would finally fulfill what he understood to be his responsibility to society" (p. 220). As a tribute to his friend and fellow poet, Arnold gives Clough the last word, as if his dead friend has replaced the Scholar-Gipsy as the "light" that will inspire Arnold's future career, not as a great poet, but as the greatest Victorian critic. It is the closest that the agnostic Arnold can come to the classical elegist's affirmation that the elegized poet still lives. In this way Arnold replaces the consolatory ending of the elegy, which he cannot believe in, with the affirmation conventionally found in the Romantic lyric. In the elegy Clough can neither hear nor be heard- "For there [in the "Arno vale"] thine earth-forgetting eyelids keep / The morningless and unawakening sleep" (11. 168-169)- but in the Romantic lyric the memory of him amidst "the loved hill-side" (1. 240) replaces the Scholar-Gipsy and the signal-elm as "the omen" (1. 161) or the sign of the continuing "power" that will sustain Arnold in the next- and the most important- phase of his life's work.

"From its inception in classical times," says Sharp, "elegy has been a vehicle by which a poet negotiates his own poetic maturation and grapples with the risks and gains attendant upon the acquisition of public voice. In the elegies of Moschus, Bion, Spenser, and Milton, for example, poets use the death of a fellow poet as a means to secure their own poetic stature."27 But instead of using the death of a fellow poet to secure his own poetic stature, Arnold, reversing that trope, uses his elegy on his fellow poet Clough to say farewell to his role as poet as he grapples with the losses and gains attendant upon the acquisition of a new voice- not the private voice of poet but the public voice of social critic. In reversing this elegiac convention, Arnold may have found a precedent in Gray's elegy, which ends with the imagined death of the poet/elegist. "If elegy's central concern is securing the continued life of the poet as a living voice in the face of death," says Sharp, "placing the poet's death within its confines constitutes a most disturbing departure from the convention" (p. 5). Although Arnold does not follow Gray in imagining his literal death at some point in the future, he nevertheless does place his own death as a poet within his poem- that is the primary loss the poem mourns- so that he can imagine a new role for himself as a Victorian Sage, a role he had begun a decade earlier when he accepted the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

Rosenberg finds an "ambivalence underlying Arnold's poetry and prose- a nostalgia-haunted sensibility in a mind of startling modernity" (p. 148). That ambivalence is clearly discernible in the dissonant genres of "Thyrsis." Just as in "Dover Beach" he balances his nostalgia for the Sea of Faith with the recognition that "we are here as on a darkling plain . . . Where ignorant armies clash by night" (U. 35-37), so in "Thyrsis" he balances nostalgia for the past embodied in the tradition of the pastoral elegy and the pastoral Cumnor hills with the recognition that his "home" is no longer "in reach of sheep-bells" (1. 233) as it was at Oxford when he and Clough wandered those hills. And it never will be again. The choice of "home" rather than "house" is telling: Arnold's home is not in Oxford any more- and certainly not amid the pastoral Cumnor hills, where the Scholar-Gipsy "ttavels yet the loved hillside" (L 240). As the repeated words "loss" (1. 22), "Befalls" (L 23), "lost" (1. 37), "lose" (I. 38), "fallen" (1. 55), "lost" (1. 82), "fall" (1. 150), and "loss" (151) subtly but unmistakeably connote, Arnold and Clough's "golden prime" (1. 219) is a paradise lost. (The allusion to the tragic fate of Orpheus, who lost Eurydice forever, reinforces the idea that Arnold's "loss" is also irremediable.) And so Arnold "wanders" one last time over the Cumnor hills of his youth, lays to rest the ghosts of his friend's and his own youthful pursuit of poetry, and then returns to the datkling plain, to "the great town's harsh, heart-wearying roar" (1. 234).

In "Thyrsis" Arnold tried to redeem the pastoral elegy by modernizing it, by transforming it into a late-Romantic lyric of personal transformation and growth. If he did not solve to his critics' satisfaction the problem of how to write a thoroughly modern poem that is also rooted in tradition- that solution would have to await the Modernist revolution half a century later- it has to be acknowledged that, at the very least, he was acutely aware of the nature and magnitude of this problem, and he should be credited with articulating the terms of the debate. And if, as John Rosenberg claims, "Arnold's most original poetry is about the near impossibility of writing poetty in mid-Victorian England" (p. 149), then "Thyrsis" must be judged one of his most original poems.


1 John D. Rosenberg, Elegy for an Age: The Presence of the Past in Victorian Literature (London: Anthem Press, 2005), p. 5.

2 A. Dwight Culler, imaginative Reason: The Poetry of Matthew Arnold (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1966), p. 250.

3 Richard Giannone, "The Quest Motif in 'Thyrsis,'" VP 3, no. 2 (1965): 71.

4 David G. Riede, Matthew Arnold and the Betrayal of Language (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1988), p. 134.

5 Patrick Connolly, Matthew Arnold and 'Thyrsis' (London: Greenwich Exchange, 2004), p. 82.

6 Peter J. Rabinowitz, Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1987), p. 176.

7 See M. H. Abrams, "Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric," in his The Correspondent Breeze: Essays on English Romanticism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), pp. 76-108. The speaker in the greater Romantic lyric, says Abrams, "begins with a description of the landscape; an aspect or change of aspect in the landscape evokes a varied but integral process of memory, thought, anticipation, and feeling which remains closely intervolved with the outer scene. In the course of this meditation the lyric speaker achieves an insight, faces up to a tragic loss, comes to a moral decision, or resolves an emotional problem" (p. 77).

8 Michael O'Neill, "'The Burden of Ourselves': Arnold as a Post-Romantic Poet," Yearbook of English Studies 36, no. 2 (2006): 122.

9 Melissa F. Zeiger, Beyond Consolation: Death, Sexuality, and the Changing Shapes of Elegy (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977), p. 1.

10 Peter M. Sacks, The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1985).

11 Alan Grob, A Longing Like Despair: Arnold's Poetry of Pessimism (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 2002). The declining status of "Thyrsis" in Arnold's canon, as well as in Victorian poetry generally, is confirmed by its absence from the index of The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry (2000).

12 William E. Buckler, On the Poetry of Matthew Arnold: Essays in Critical Reconstruction (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1982); W. David Shaw, Elegy & Paradox: Testing the Contentions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1994).

13 Alastair Fowler, "The Life and Death of Literary Forms," NLH 2, no. 2 (Winter 1971): 206.

14 Sacks, pp. 260, 261. Shaw discusses "Thyrsis" in terms of Arnold's response to the Romantic elegy represented by Shelley's "Adonais." One "difference between Arnold and Shelley is the former's sense that classical elegy is not just a gente in transition; it is a genre under siege, whose very survival is at stake. How can its traditional language and ancient symbols hope to live again if the biblical beliefs and classical legends that nourished them have now become mere superannuated myths?" (p. 39).

15 Antony H. Harrison, Victorian Poets and Romantic Poems: intertextualiry and Ideology (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1990), p. 16.

16 Anne Williams, Prophetic Strain: The Greater Romantic Lyric in the Eighteenth Century (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 104.

17 Riede says that Arnold's use of the conventions of the elegy "involves a self-conscious calling upon the thoughts of great poets of the past, an invocation of 'the best that is known and thought in the world'- Arnold's conventions invoke not only Theocritus and Virgil, but Milton's "Lycidas" and Gray's "Elegy" (p. 136). However, in his analysis of "Thyrsis" Riede does not mention the "Elegy."

18 "Thyrsis," 1. 1, in The Poems o/ Matthew Arnold, ed. Miriam Allott (New York: Longman, 1979). All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition and included parenthetically.

19 The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek, ed. H. W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966).

20 "Lycidas," U. 8, 165, 165-166, in John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957).

21 "Adonais," 11. 343-344, in Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Major Works, ed. Zachary Leader and Michael O'Neill (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008).

22 Culler believes that the word "power," repeated three times in the poem, "has almost Lawrentian overtones of a vital, procreative force, a joyous union with natute and with oneself, which would enable [Arnold] to recreate the vision of the Scholar-Gipsy once again" (p. 256). It seems to me that "power" is associated more with the Romantic and specifically Wordsworthian idea of joy than with Lawrentian blood-consciousness.

"Above all," says Stefan Collini, "the inescapable poetic presence for Arnold was Wordsworth. In literary terms, his relationship to Wordsworth bordered on the filial, a connection strengthened by early visits to him from the Arnolds' neighbouring family home in the Lake District, but more significantly intensified by Arnold's implicit association of Wordsworth with the early stage of human innocence, and with the simple, joyful song which that age still allowed." See Stefan Collini, Arnold (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), p. 29.

23 William Wordsworth, "Ode," in Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800-1807, ed. Jared Curtis (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1983), p. 271, U. 1-9.

24 Alan Roper, Arnold's Poetic Landscapes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1969), p. 228.

25 Northrop Frye, "Literature as Context: Milton's 'Lycidas'" in Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1963), p. 121.

26 Harold Bloom makes the same point, somewhat more provocatively, when he says in The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), "The great pastoral elegies, indeed all major elegies for poets, do not express grief but center upon their composers' own creative anxieties" (p. 151). Arnold explicitly expresses his grief for Clough in only one line: "Yet, Thyrsis, let me give my grief its hour" (1. 102).

27 Michele Turner Sharp, "Elegy unto Epitaph: Print Culture and Commemorative Practice in Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,'" Papers on Language and Literature 38 (2002): 3.

Author affiliation:

NILS CLAUSSON has taught at the University of Regina since 1984. His primary areas of interest are Victotian and early twentieth-century British literature. He has published scholarly articles on Benjamin Disraeli, Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, Elizabeth Gaskell, Arthur Conati Doyle, WWI poetry, D. H. Lawrence, and Walt Whitman. He organized the 2008 International Arthur Conan Doyle Symposium at the Univetsity of Regina and is currently completing a book on Conan Doyle. He recently published an article on "Dover Beach" in Papers on Language and Literature.

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