The Scholar Gipsy as a pastoral elegy

Question: Discuss The Scholar Gipsy as a pastoral elegy.


The term pastoral has been derived from the Latin word ‘pastor’ which means shepherd. Pastoral elegy is a literary term that idealizes rural life or the rural world. It depicts the day to day life of a shepherd or a common life.

Origin of pastoral elegy

In the classical age, writers like Bion, Moschus, and Theocritus started to write poems with elegiac tones. From their writing, pastoral elegy had been originated. According to the Oxford Dictionary, in modern literature, a pastoral elegy is a poem of serious reflection or typically a lament for the dead.

“The Scholar Gipsy” as a pastoral elegy

“The Scholar Gipsy” (1853) is a well-known pastoral elegy composed by poet-critic or prince of Victorian poets, Matthew Arnold (1822-1888). It has fulfilled the conditions to be a well-formatted pastoral elegy because of its characteristic features which are presented here.

Philosophic mournful atmosphere

The poem started with philosophic mourns since the speaker of the poem says that a very brilliant alumnus of Oxford University has gone to search for spiritual satisfaction because of poverty. Such an indication is certain philosophic because this indicates the self-centered human society.

Pastoral setting

“The Scholar Gipsy” has been created with a pastoral setting which refers to a place. Arnold creates a rural setting that is the countryside of Oxford. Throwing the power of imagination, the poet has made it more beautiful and more impressive. Green muffled Cumner hills, sloping pastures bright with sunshine and flowers which form the ideal setting for the spiritual presence of the Scholar Gipsy. We find the poet saying:

“Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls

And the grave Granvil did the tale inscribe”

Reference of the shepherd

A pastoral elegy deals with the life of a shepherd. So, in “The Scholar Gipsy”, Arnold addresses his friend as a shepherd. The poet asks his friend to attend to the sheep and also proposes him to loose the sheep from the folds. After his duty, he is advised by the poet to come in the evening. Here Arnold has not identified himself as a shepherd like other pastoral elegies. In this very poem, Arnold’s friend is considered to be a shepherd. Thus, the poem fulfills one of the fundamental features of an elegy.

Presence of nature

Nature is inevitable for an elegiac poem because it plays a vital role. Nature takes the form which needs to expose. From the very outset of the poem, nature is presented and it exists throughout the poem. The depiction of hills, the river Thames, the flowery field, and so on are strong evidence of the presence of nature.

Pastoral in structure

“The Scholar Gipsy” has a ten-line stanza that helps to keep the movement of the poem slow. The slow movement of the verse bears the meaning of the sad and melancholic tone. Arnold here has used the philosophic mood as a great elegiac poet. The poem is set with a modern touch at the structure. In this way, the poem has become a perfect pastoral elegy from its stanza pattern and structural shape.

Harmonious language

The musical language is one of the features of a pastoral elegy. In fact, music and melody are romantic concepts but Arnold’s poetry, however, incorporates these romantic features. He expresses his concern over the emergence of materialism. He cries for the loss of the happiest time. But he is comforted by the idea that the champion of orthodoxy, Scholar Gipsy is not dead. He describes his feelings by the dint of figurative and musical language.

“Thou hast not felt the lapse of

   Thou hast not lived

    Why, shouldst, thou perish?”

Sense of mortality and immortality

An elegy is started with someone or something’s praising and ends with consolation. After a long life of Gipsy, the very scholar of the Oxford University is not found anymore but the poet does not agree to say that he is dead but he asserts that he is alive and immortal because of his spiritual quest or search for truth and single aim of life to gain knowledge so that he can preach and make people happy with passion and compassion. It is in the poet’s tongue:

“Thou hast not lived, why shouldn’t thou perish, so?

Thou hast one aim and desire.”


From the light of the above discussion, it is transparent that “The Scholar Gipsy” possesses all the characteristic features of a pastoral elegy. This poem in form of an elegy has castigated the English conscience of the Victorian period though the poem is somewhat different from the conventional type of elegy.

Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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