One feels that the poems of Matthew Arnold are like the Victorian drawing room in being somewhat over furnished. There’s a nice bureau but alas the cabinet of Capodimonte, souvenirs of Oxford, and Arnold himself standing in the views, in front of Mt.Blanc, ‘there I am in Thun and ah Marguerite’. Still when it, the poem, works, the sweep is magnificent. I am always moved by The Scholar Gypsy but Thyrsis is ruined by ambivalence perhaps the one emotion that poetry retreats from. Sir Edmund Chambers (1866 - 1954) who wrote both long and short about Arnold feels that it was his greatest poem (Wirton Lecture on English Poetry 1932).
The singing match aspect of it is where the ambivalence emerges and surely Freud would have approved of the classical masking adapted from the Seventh Eclogue of Virgil in which Corydon defeated Thyrsis. Arnold attempts an uneasy recovery in line 80:
For Time, not Corydon, hath conquer’d thee.
However it seems that Clough born 1819 and four years older than Arnold was headmaster Thomas Arnold’s, Papa’s, favourite at Rugby where he was made head boy and represented the ideals of the school. Clough was a brilliant student who was reading Schleiermacher in the original at the age of 15. One need not hearken to the counsels of Vienna to see unresolved quasi-sibling rivalry. It was widely felt that Clough would have a brilliant career in whatever sphere he chose. Due to conscientious objection to the acceptance of the doctrines of the Church of England an academic career was closed to him at Oxford and that history is indicated in the Victorian web’s entry:
What then of the poetry? In my view Corydon did win.
Here’s an example of an overpopulated poem by Clough:
In a Lecture Room
Away, haunt thou me not,
Thou vain Philosophy!
Little hast thou bestead,
Save to perplex the head,
And leave the spirit dead.
Unto thy broken cisterns wherefore go,
While from the secret treasure-depths below,
Fed by the skyey shower,
And clouds that sink and rest on hilltops high,
Wisdom at once, and Power,
Are welling, bubbling forth, unseen, incessantly?
Why labor at the dull mechanic oar,
When the fresh breeze is blowing,
And the strong current flowing,
Right onward to the Eternal Shore?
A little thing to be freighted with so many abstractions.
Too quick despairer, wherefore wilt thou go?(from Thyrsis l.60 - 70 )
Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow;
Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening-star.