poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Although remembered now for his elegantly argued critical essays, Matthew Arnold, born in Laleham, Middlesex, on December 24, 1822, began his career as a poet, winning early recognition as a student at the Rugby School where his father, Thomas Arnold, had earned national acclaim as a strict and innovative headmaster. Arnold also studied at Balliol College, Oxford University. In 1844, after completing his undergraduate degree at Oxford, he returned to Rugby as a teacher of classics. After marrying in 1851, Arnold began work as a government school inspector, a grueling position which nonetheless afforded him the opportunity to travel throughout England and the Continent. Throughout his thirty-five years in this position Arnold developed an interest in education, an interest which fed into both his critical works and his poetry. Empedocles on Etna (1852) and Poems (1853) established Arnold's reputation as a poet and in 1857 he was offered a position, which he accepted and held until 1867, as Professor of Poetry at Oxford. Arnold became the first professor to lecture in English rather than Latin. During this time Arnold wrote the bulk of his most famous critical works, Essays in Criticism (1865) and Culture and Anarchy (1869), in which he sets forth ideas that greatly reflect the predominant values of the Victorian era.

Meditative and rhetorical, Arnold's poetry often wrestles with problems of psychological isolation. In "To Marguerite—Continued," for example, Arnold revises Donne's assertion that "No man is an island," suggesting that we "mortals" are indeed "in the sea of life enisled." Other well-known poems, such as "Dover Beach," link the problem of isolation with what Arnold saw as the dwindling faith of his time. Despite his own religious doubts, a source of great anxiety for him, in several essays Arnold sought to establish the essential truth of Christianity. His most influential essays, however, were those on literary topics. In "The Function of Criticism" (1865) and "The Study of Poetry" (1880) Arnold called for a new epic poetry: a poetry that would address the moral needs of his readers, "to animate and ennoble them." Arnold's arguments, for a renewed religious faith and an adoption of classical aesthetics and morals, are particularly representative of mainstream Victorian intellectual concerns. His approach—his gentlemanly and subtle style—to these issues, however, established criticism as an art form, and has influenced almost every major English critic since, including T. S. Eliot, Lionel Trilling, and Harold Bloom. Though perhaps less obvious, the tremendous influence of his poetry, which addresses the poet's most innermost feelings with complete transparency, can easily be seen in writers as different from each other as W. B. Yeats, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, and Sharon Olds. Late in life, in 1883 and 1886, Arnold made two lecturing tours of the United States. Matthew Arnold died in Liverpool on April 15, 1888.

Selected Bibliography


A Matthew Arnold Birthday Book (1883)
Alaric at Rome: A Prize Poem (1840)
Cromwell: A Prize Poem (1843)
Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems (1852)
Empedocles on Etna: A Dramatic Poem (1900)
Merope: A Tragedy (1858)
New Poems (1867)
Poems: A New Edition (1853)
Poems: Second Series (1855)
The Poems of Matthew Arnold (1965)
The Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold (1950)
The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems (1849)
The Works of Matthew Arnold (1903)


Essays, Letters, and Reviews by Matthew Arnold Essays, Letters, and Reviews by Matthew Arnold (1960)
Friendship's Garland (1883)
"Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve," in Encyclopedia Britannica, ninth edition, IX: 162-165 (1886)
"Isaiah of Jerusalem" in the Authorized English Version, with an Introduction, Corrections and Notes (1883)
"Schools," in The Reign of Queen Victoria (1887)
A Bible-Reading for Schools: The Great Prophecy of Israel's Restoration (1872)
A French Eton; or, Middle Class Education and the State (1864)
Arnold as Dramatic Critic (1903)
Civilization in the United States: First and Last Impressions of America (1888)
Complete Prose Works (1960)
Culture and Anarchy (1883)
Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism (1869)
Culture and the State (1965)
Discourses in America (1885)
Education Department (1886)
England and the Italian Question (1859)
England and the Italian Question, (1953)
Essays in Criticism (1865)
Essays in Criticism: Second Series (1888)
Essays in Criticism: Third Series (1910)
Five Uncollected Essays of Matthew Arnold (1953)
General Grant, with a Rejoinder by Mark Twain (1966)
General Grant: An Estimate (1887)
God and the Bible: A Review of Objections to "Literature and Dogma" (1875)
Heinrich Heine (1863)
Higher Schools and Universities in Germany (1874)
Irish Essays, and Others (1882)
Isaiah XLLXVI; with the Shorter Prophecies Allied to It (1875)
Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877)
Letters of Matthew Arnold, 1848-1888 (1895)
Letters of an Old Playgoer (1919)
Letters, Speeches and Tracts on Irish Affairs by Edmund Burke (1881)
Literature and Dogma: An Essay towards a Better Apprehension of the Bible (1873)
Matthew Arnold's Letters: A Descriptive Checklist (1968)
Matthew Arnold's Notebooks (1902)
Mixed Essays (1879)
On Home Rule for Ireland: Two Letters to "The Times" (1891)
On Translating Homer: Last Words: A Lecture Given at Oxford (1862)
On Translating Homer: Three Lectures Given at Oxford (1861)
On the Modern Element in Literature (1869)
On the Study of Celtic Literature (1883)
Poems of Wordsworth (1879)
Poetry of Byron (1881)
Reports on Elementary Schools 1852-1882 (1889)
Schools and Universities on the Continent (1867)
St. Paul and Protestantism; with an Introduction on Puritanism and the Church of England (1883)
The Hundred Greatest Men: Portraits of the One Hundred Greatest Men of History (1879)
The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough (1932)
The Note-Books of Matthew Arnold (1952)
The Popular Education of France, with Notices of That of Holland and Switzerland (1861)
The Six Chief Lives from Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," with Macaulay's "Life of Johnson," (1878)
The Study of Poetry (1880)
Thoughts on Education Chosen From the Writings of Matthew Arnold (1912)
Unpublished Letters of Matthew Arnold (1923)

The Scholar-Gypsy

Go, for they call you, Shepherd, from the hill;
  Go, Shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes:
    No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
  Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
    Nor the cropp'd grasses shoot another head.
      But when the fields are still,
  And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
    And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
    Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch'd green;
Come Shepherd, and again begin the quest.
Here, where the reaper was at work of late,
  In this high field's dark corner, where he leaves
    His coat, his basket, and his earthen cruise,
  And in the sun all morning binds the sheaves,
    Then here, at noon, comes back his stores to use;
      Here will I sit and wait,
  While to my ear from uplands far away
    The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
    With distant cries of reapers in the corn—
  All the live murmur of a summer's day.
Screen'd is this nook o'er the high, half-reap'd field,
  And here till sundown, Shepherd, will I be.
    Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
  And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see
    Pale blue convolvulus in tendrils creep:
      And air-swept lindens yield
  Their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers
    Of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid,
    And bower me from the August sun with shade;
  And the eye travels down to Oxford's towers:
And near me on the grass lies Glanvil's book—
  Come, let me read the oft-read tale again:
    The story of that Oxford scholar poor,
  Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
    Who, tired of knocking at Preferment's door,
      One summer morn forsook
  His friends, and went to learn the gypsy lore,
    And roam'd the world with that wild brotherhood,
    And came, as most men deem'd, to little good,
  But came to Oxford and his friends no more.
But once, years after, in the country lanes,
  Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
    Met him, and of his way of life inquired.
  Whereat he answer'd that the gypsy crew,
    His mates, had arts to rule as they desired
      The workings of men's brains;
  And they can bind them to what thoughts they will:
    'And I,' he said, 'the secret of their art,
    When fully learn'd, will to the world impart:
  But it needs Heaven-sent moments for this skill!'
This said, he left them, and return'd no more,
  But rumours hung about the country-side,
    That the lost Scholar long was seen to stray,
  Seen by rare glimpses, pensive and tongue-tied,
    In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey,
      The same the Gipsies wore.
  Shepherds had met him on the Hurst in spring;
    At some lone alehouse in the Berkshire moors,
    On the warm ingle-bench, the smock-frock'd boors
  Had found him seated at their entering,
But 'mid their drink and clatter, he would fly:
  And I myself seem half to know thy looks,
    And put the shepherds, Wanderer, on thy trace;
  And boys who in lone wheatfields scare the rooks
    I ask if thou hast pass'd their quiet place;
      Or in my boat I lie
  Moor'd to the cool bank in the summer heats,
    'Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills,
    And watch the warm green-muffled Cumnor hills,
  And wonder if thou haunt'st their shy retreats.

For most, I know, thou lov'st retirèd ground.
  Thee, at the ferry, Oxford riders blithe,
    Returning home on summer nights, have met
  Crossing the stripling Thames at Bablock-hithe,
    Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet,
      As the slow punt swings round:
  And leaning backwards in a pensive dream,
    And fostering in thy lap a heap of flowers
    Pluck'd in shy fields and distant Wychwood bowers,
  And thine eyes resting on the moonlit stream:
And then they land, and thou art seen no more.
  Maidens who from the distant hamlets come
    To dance around the Fyfield elm in May,
  Oft through the darkening fields have seen thee roam,
    Or cross a stile into the public way.
      Oft thou hast given them store
  Of flowers—the frail-leaf'd, white anemone—
    Dark bluebells drench'd with dews of summer eves,
    And purple orchises with spotted leaves—
  But none has words she can report of thee.

And, above Godstow Bridge, when hay-time 's here
  In June, and many a scythe in sunshine flames,
    Men who through those wide fields of breezy grass
  Where black-wing'd swallows haunt the glittering Thames,
    To bathe in the abandon'd lasher pass,
      Have often pass'd thee near
  Sitting upon the river bank o'ergrown:
    Mark'd thine outlandish garb, thy figure spare,
    Thy dark vague eyes, and soft abstracted air;
  But, when they came from bathing, thou wert gone.
At some lone homestead in the Cumnor hills,
  Where at her open door the housewife darns,
    Thou hast been seen, or hanging on a gate
  To watch the threshers in the mossy barns.
    Children, who early range these slopes and late
      For cresses from the rills,
  Have known thee watching, all an April day,
    The springing pastures and the feeding kine;
    And mark'd thee, when the stars come out and shine,
  Through the long dewy grass move slow away.
In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood,
  Where most the Gipsies by the turf-edged way
    Pitch their smoked tents, and every bush you see
  With scarlet patches tagg'd and shreds of gray,
    Above the forest-ground call'd Thessaly—
      The blackbird picking food
  Sees thee, nor stops his meal, nor fears at all;
    So often has he known thee past him stray
    Rapt, twirling in thy hand a wither'd spray,
  And waiting for the spark from Heaven to fall.
And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
  Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
    Have I not pass'd thee on the wooden bridge
  Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
    Thy face towards Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
      And thou hast climb'd the hill
  And gain'd the white brow of the Cumnor range;
    Turn'd once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
    The line of festal light in Christ Church hall—
  Then sought thy straw in some sequester'd grange.
But what—I dream! Two hundred years are flown
  Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,
    And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe
  That thou wert wander'd from the studious walls
    To learn strange arts, and join a gypsy tribe:
      And thou from earth art gone
  Long since and in some quiet churchyard laid;
    Some country nook, where o'er thy unknown grave
    Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave—
  Under a dark red-fruited yew-tree's shade.
—No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours.
  For what wears out the life of mortal men?
    'Tis that from change to change their being rolls:
  'Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,
    Exhaust the energy of strongest souls,
      And numb the elastic powers.
  Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,
    And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,
    To the just-pausing Genius we remit
  Our worn-out life, and are—what we have been.

Thou hast not lived, why shouldst thou perish, so?
  Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire:
    Else wert thou long since number'd with the dead—
  Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire.
    The generations of thy peers are fled,
      And we ourselves shall go;
  But thou possessest an immortal lot,
    And we imagine thee exempt from age
    And living as thou liv'st on Glanvil's page,
  Because thou hadst—what we, alas, have not!
For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
  Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
    Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
  Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,
    Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.
      O Life unlike to ours!
  Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,
    Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives,
    And each half lives a hundred different lives;
  Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.
Thou waitest for the spark from Heaven: and we,
  Vague half-believers of our casual creeds,
    Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will'd,
  Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
    Whose weak resolves never have been fulfill'd;
      For whom each year we see
  Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
    Who hesitate and falter life away,
    And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—
  Ah, do not we, Wanderer, await it too?

Yes, we await it, but it still delays,
  And then we suffer; and amongst us One,
    Who most has suffer'd, takes dejectedly
  His seat upon the intellectual throne;
    And all his store of sad experience he
      Lays bare of wretched days;
  Tells us his misery's birth and growth and signs,
    And how the dying spark of hope was fed,
    And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,
  And all his hourly varied anodynes.
This for our wisest: and we others pine,
  And wish the long unhappy dream would end,
    And waive all claim to bliss, and try to bear,
  With close-lipp'd Patience for our only friend,
    Sad Patience, too near neighbour to Despair:
      But none has hope like thine.
  Thou through the fields and through the woods dost stray,
    Roaming the country-side, a truant boy,
    Nursing thy project in unclouded joy,
  And every doubt long blown by time away.
O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
  And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
    Before this strange disease of modern life,
  With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
    Its heads o'ertax'd, its palsied hearts, was rife—
      Fly hence, our contact fear!
  Still fly, plunge deeper in the bowering wood!
    Averse, as Dido did with gesture stern
    From her false friend's approach in Hades turn,
  Wave us away, and keep thy solitude.

Still nursing the unconquerable hope,
  Still clutching the inviolable shade,
    With a free onward impulse brushing through,
  By night, the silver'd branches of the glade—
    Far on the forest-skirts, where none pursue,
      On some mild pastoral slope
  Emerge, and resting on the moonlit pales,
    Freshen they flowers, as in former years,
    With dew, or listen with enchanted ears,
  From the dark dingles, to the nightingales.

But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!
  For strong the infection of our mental strife,
    Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest;
  And we should win thee from they own fair life,
    Like us distracted, and like us unblest.
      Soon, soon thy cheer would die,
  Thy hopes grow timorous, and unfix'd they powers,
    And they clear aims be cross and shifting made:
    And then thy glad perennial youth would fade,
  Fade, and grow old at last, and die like ours.

Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!
  —As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
    Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
  Lifting the cool-hair'd creepers stealthily,
    The fringes of a southward-facing brow
      Among the Ægean isles;
  And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
    Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
    Green bursting figs, and tunnies steep'd in brine;
  And knew the intruders on his ancient home,

The young light-hearted Masters of the waves;
  And snatch'd his rudder, and shook out more sail,
    And day and night held on indignantly
  O'er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
    Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
      To where the Atlantic raves
  Outside the Western Straits, and unbent sails
    There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
    Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
  And on the beach undid his corded bales.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold

Meditative and rhetorical, Matthew Arnold's poetry often wrestles with problems of psychological isolation and has influenced writers as different from each other as W. B. YeatsJames Wright, and Sylvia Plath.

by this poet

Strew on her roses, roses,   
  And never a spray of yew.   
In quiet she reposes:   
  Ah! would that I did too.   
Her mirth the world required:
  She bathed it in smiles of glee.   
But her heart was tired, tired,   
  And now they let her be.   
Her life was turning, turning,   
  In mazes of heat and
   Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,  
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!  
I feel a nameless sadness o'er me roll.  
   Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,  
We know, we know that we can smile;     
But there 's a something in this breast,  
To which thy light words bring no rest,  
And thy gay
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-