In its ancient Greece ‘elegy’ used to denote a kind of poetry dealing with the subject matter of change and loss. As a humanist Arnold was very much concerned about the gaining of supremacy of science, theology and natural philosophy over arts, poetry, and moral philosophy as academic subjects. This passionate sense of loss and the concern for rapid shifting in the taste of his people are strongly evident in the poems of Matthew Arnold. His best of poems comes when he is this brooding mood. As a poet Arnold provides a record of a sick society. In the Scholar Gypsy (1867) Arnold’s attitude to the gypsy is closely analogous to that of an adult towards child. He appreciates even envies its innocence, but realizes that there is no return to such state is possible for himself. The child loses its ‘innocence’ not by some act of sin or by a defect of intellect, but merely by gaining experience and developing into an adult. The realities of adult life turn out to be less agreeable.The gypsy, like a child, is the embodiment of a good lost, not of a good temporarily or culpably mislaid. When Arnold contrasts the gypsy’s serenity with the disquiets and perplexities of his own age, he is not satirizing the nineteenth century, or renouncing it, or criticizing it, or suggesting a remedy, he is rather, exploring its spiritual and emotional losses, and the stoic readjustment which this will entail for it:
—No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!
For what wears out of the life of mortal men?
“Tis that form change to change their bearing rolls; The poem starts with description of the lethargic setting of the Oxfordshire countryside. The setting prepares us of the...