Matthew Arnold: Poems Summary and Analysis of "The Scholar-Gipsy" (1853)
The speaker of "The Scholar-Gipsy" describes a beautiful rural setting in the pastures, with the town of Oxford lying in the distance. He watches the shepherd and reapers working amongst the field, and then tells the shepherd that he will remain out there until sundown, enjoying the scenery and studying the towers of Oxford. All the while, he will keep his book beside him. His book tells the famous story by Joseph Glanvill, about an impoverished Oxford student who leaves his studies to join a band of gypsies. Once he was immersed within their community, he learned the secrets of their trade. After a while, two of the Scholar-Gipsy's Oxford associates found him, and he told them about the traditional gypsy style of learning, which emphasizes powerful imagination. His plan was to remain with the gypsies until he learned everything he could, and then to tell their secrets to the world. Regularly interjecting his own wonder into the telling, the speaker continues the scholar-gipsy's story. Every once in a while, people would claim to have seen him in the Berkshire moors. The speaker imagines him as a shadowy figure who is waiting for the "spark from heaven," just like everyone else on Earth is. The speaker even claims to have seen the scholar-gipsy himself once, even though it has been over two hundred years since his story first resonated through the halls of Oxford. Despite that length of time, the speaker does not believe the scholar-gipsy could have died, since he had renounced the life of mortal man, including those things that wear men out to death: "repeated shocks, again, again/exhaust the energy of strongest souls." Having chosen to repudiate this style of life, the scholar-gipsy does not suffer from such "shocks," but instead is "free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt." He has escaped the perils of modern life, which are slowly creeping up and destroying men like...
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