The Scholar-Gipsy

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, Poems by Matthew Arnold: A New Edition (1853).
2Go, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes!
3     No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
4Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
5     Nor the cropp'd herbage shoot another head.
6          But when the fields are still,
7And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
8     And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
9     Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch'd green.
10Come, shepherd, and again begin the quest!
11Here, where the reaper was at work of late--
12In this high field's dark corner, where he leaves
13     His coat, his basket, and his earthen cruse,
14And in the sun all morning binds the sheaves,
15     Then here, at noon, comes back his stores to use--
16          Here will I sit and wait,
17While to my ear from uplands far away
18     The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
19     With distant cries of reapers in the corn--
20All the live murmur of a summer's day.
21Screen'd is this nook o'er the high, half-reap'd field,
22And here till sun-down, shepherd! will I be.
23     Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
24And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see
25     Pale pink convolvulus in tendrils creep;
26          And air-swept lindens yield
27Their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers
28     Of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid,
29     And bower me from the August sun with shade;
30And the eye travels down to Oxford's towers.
31And near me on the grass lies Glanvil's book--
32Come, let me read the oft-read tale again!
33     The story of the Oxford scholar poor,
34Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
35     Who, tired of knocking at preferment's door,
36          One summer-morn forsook
37His friends, and went to learn the gipsy-lore,
38     And roam'd the world with that wild brotherhood,
39     And came, as most men deem'd, to little good,
40But came to Oxford and his friends no more.
41But once, years after, in the country-lanes,
42Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
43     Met him, and of his way of life enquired;
44Whereat he answer'd, that the gipsy-crew,
45     His mates, had arts to rule as they desired
46          The workings of men's brains,
47And they can bind them to what thoughts they will.
48     "And I," he said, "the secret of their art,
49     When fully learn'd, will to the world impart;
50But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill."
51This said, he left them, and return'd no more.--
52But rumours hung about the country-side,
53     That the lost Scholar long was seen to stray,
54Seen by rare glimpses, pensive and tongue-tied,
55     In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey,
56          The same the gipsies wore.
57Shepherds had met him on the Hurst in spring;
58     At some lone alehouse in the Berkshire moors,
60Had found him seated at their entering,
61But, 'mid their drink and clatter, he would fly.
62And I myself seem half to know thy looks,
63     And put the shepherds, wanderer! on thy trace;
64And boys who in lone wheatfields scare the rooks
65     I ask if thou hast pass'd their quiet place;
66          Or in my boat I lie
67Moor'd to the cool bank in the summer-heats,
68     'Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills,
69     And watch the warm, green-muffled Cumner hills,
70And wonder if thou haunt'st their shy retreats.
71For most, I know, thou lov'st retired ground!
72Thee at the ferry Oxford riders blithe,
73     Returning home on summer-nights, have met
75     Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet,
76          As the punt's rope chops round;
77And leaning backward in a pensive dream,
78     And fostering in thy lap a heap of flowers
79     Pluck'd in shy fields and distant Wychwood bowers,
80And thine eyes resting on the moonlit stream.
81And then they land, and thou art seen no more!--
82Maidens, who from the distant hamlets come
83     To dance around the Fyfield elm in May,
84Oft through the darkening fields have seen thee roam,
85     Or cross a stile into the public way.
86          Oft thou hast given them store
87Of flowers--the frail-leaf'd, white anemony,
88     Dark bluebells drench'd with dews of summer eves,
89     And purple orchises with spotted leaves--
90But none hath words she can report of thee.
91And, above Godstow Bridge, when hay-time's here
92In June, and many a scythe in sunshine flames,
93     Men who through those wide fields of breezy grass
94Where black-wing'd swallows haunt the glittering Thames,
96          Have often pass'd thee near
97Sitting upon the river bank o'ergrown;
98     Mark'd thine outlandish garb, thy figure spare,
99     Thy dark vague eyes, and soft abstracted air--
100But, when they came from bathing, thou wast gone!
101At some lone homestead in the Cumner hills,
102Where at her open door the housewife darns,
103     Thou hast been seen, or hanging on a gate
104To watch the threshers in the mossy barns.
105     Children, who early range these slopes and late
106          For cresses from the rills,
107Have known thee eyeing, all an April-day,
108     The springing pasture and the feeding kine;
109     And mark'd thee, when the stars come out and shine,
110Through the long dewy grass move slow away.
111In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood--
112Where most the gipsies by the turf-edged way
113     Pitch their smoked tents, and every bush you see
114With scarlet patches tagg'd and shreds of grey,
115     Above the forest-ground called Thessaly--
116          The blackbird, picking food,
117Sees thee, nor stops his meal, nor fears at all;
118     So often has he known thee past him stray,
119     Rapt, twirling in thy hand a wither'd spray,
120And waiting for the spark from heaven to fall.
121And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
122Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
123     Have I not pass'd thee on the wooden bridge,
124Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
125     Thy face tow'rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
126          And thou has climb'd the hill,
127And gain'd the white brow of the Cumner range;
128     Turn'd once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
129     The line of festal light in Christ-Church hall--
130Then sought thy straw in some sequester'd grange.
131But what--I dream! Two hundred years are flown
132Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,
133     And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe
134That thou wert wander'd from the studious walls
135     To learn strange arts, and join a gipsy-tribe;
136          And thou from earth art gone
137Long since, and in some quiet churchyard laid--
138     Some country-nook, where o'er thy unknown grave
139     Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave,
140Under a dark, red-fruited yew-tree's shade.
141--No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!
142For what wears out the life of mortal men?
143     'Tis that from change to change their being rolls;
144'Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,
145     Exhaust the energy of strongest souls
146          And numb the elastic powers.
148     And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,
149     To the just-pausing Genius we remit
150Our worn-out life, and are--what we have been.
151Thou hast not lived, why should'st thou perish, so?
152Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;
153     Else wert thou long since number'd with the dead!
154Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire!
155     The generations of thy peers are fled,
156          And we ourselves shall go;
157But thou possessest an immortal lot,
158     And we imagine thee exempt from age
159     And living as thou liv'st on Glanvil's page,
160Because thou hadst--what we, alas! have not.
161For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
162Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
163     Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
164Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,
165     Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.
166          O life unlike to ours!
167Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,
168     Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives,
169     And each half lives a hundred different lives;
170Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.
171Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
172Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
173     Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will'd,
174Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
175     Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill'd;
176          For whom each year we see
177Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
178     Who hesitate and falter life away,
179     And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day--
180Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?
181Yes, we await it!--but it still delays,
183     Who most has suffer'd, takes dejectedly
184His seat upon the intellectual throne;
185     And all his store of sad experience he
186          Lays bare of wretched days;
187Tells us his misery's birth and growth and signs,
188     And how the dying spark of hope was fed,
189     And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,
190And all his hourly varied anodynes.
191This for our wisest! and we others pine,
192And wish the long unhappy dream would end,
193     And waive all claim to bliss, and try to bear;
194With close-lipp'd patience for our only friend,
195     Sad patience, too near neighbour to despair--
196          But none has hope like thine!
197Thou through the fields and through the woods dost stray,
198     Roaming the country-side, a truant boy,
199     Nursing thy project in unclouded joy,
200And every doubt long blown by time away.
201O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
202And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
203     Before this strange disease of modern life,
204With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
205     Its heads o'ertax'd, its palsied hearts, was rife--
206          Fly hence, our contact fear!
207Still fly, plunge deeper in the bowering wood!
209     From her false friend's approach in Hades turn,
210Wave us away, and keep thy solitude!
211Still nursing the unconquerable hope,
212Still clutching the inviolable shade,
213     With a free, onward impulse brushing through,
214By night, the silver'd branches of the glade--
215     Far on the forest-skirts, where none pursue,
216          On some mild pastoral slope
217Emerge, and resting on the moonlit pales
218     Freshen thy flowers as in former years
219     With dew, or listen with enchanted ears,
221But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!
222For strong the infection of our mental strife,
223     Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest;
224And we should win thee from thy own fair life,
225     Like us distracted, and like us unblest.
226          Soon, soon thy cheer would die,
227Thy hopes grow timorous, and unfix'd thy powers,
228     And thy clear aims be cross and shifting made;
229     And then thy glad perennial youth would fade,
230Fade and grow old at last, and die like ours.
231Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!
232--As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
233     Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
234Lifting the cool-hair'd creepers stealthily,
235     The fringes of a southward-facing brow
236          Among the Ægæan Isles;
237And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
238     Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
239     Green, bursting figs, and tunnies steep'd in brine--
240And knew the intruders on his ancient home,
241The young light-hearted masters of the waves--
242And snatch'd his rudder, and shook out more sail;
243     And day and night held on indignantly
244O'er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
246          To where the Atlantic raves
247Outside the western straits; and unbent sails
248     There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
249     Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
250And on the beach undid his corded bales.


1] Arnold gives the following note from The Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661) written by Joseph Glanville. "There was very lately a lad in the University of Oxford, who was by his poverty forced to leave his studies there; and at last to join himself to a company of vagabond gipsies. Among these extravagant people, by the insinuating subtilty of his carriage, he quickly got so much of their love and esteem as that they discovered to him their mystery. After he had been a pretty while exercised in the trade, there chanced to ride by a couple of scholars, who had formerly been of his acquaintance. They quickly spied out their old friend among the gypsies; and he gave them an account of the necessity which drove him to that kind of life, and told them that the people he went with were not such imposters as they were taken for, but that they had a traditional kind of learning among them, and could do wonders by the power of imagination, their fancy binding that of others; that he himself had learned much of their art, and when he had compassed the whole secret, he intended, he said, to leave their company, and give the world an account of what he had learned." The locality described is in the immediate neighbourhood of Oxford. Arnold writes in 1885: "I cannot describe the effect which this landscape always has upon me--the hillside with its valley, and Oxford in the great Thames valley below." Back to Line
59] ingle-bench: seat by the fireside. Back to Line
74] Bab-lock-hithe: hithe properly means a wharf or landing place. Back to Line
95] lasher: a provincial word for the water held in by a dam. Back to Line
147] teen: vexation. Back to Line
182] Possibly Arnold refers to Tennyson, who had succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate in 1850 after the great success of In Memoriam. Back to Line
208] The reference is to Dido's behaviour toward Aeneas, when he descends to the world of the shades (Aeneid, VI). Back to Line
220] dingles: deep valleys. Back to Line
245] Syrtes: The two large gulfs, originally known as Syrtis Major and Syrtis Minor, on the north-eastern half of the coast of Africa, both proverbially treacherous, owing to sandbanks, rocks, and northerly winds. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.211.