Thyrsis (poem)

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Thyrsis refers to Oxford's dreaming spires such as those on the left and right in this picture taken from the University Church of St Mary the Virgin Oxford Skyline Panorama from St Mary's Church - Oct 2006 (banner esVoy).jpg
Thyrsis refers to Oxford's dreaming spires such as those on the left and right in this picture taken from the University Church of St Mary the Virgin

"Thyrsis" (from the title of Theocritus's poem "Θύρσις") [1] is a poem written by Matthew Arnold in December 1865 to commemorate his friend, the poet Arthur Hugh Clough, who had died in November 1861 aged only 42. [2] [3]


Classical sources

The character Thyrsis was a shepherd in Virgil's seventh Eclogue , who lost a singing match against Corydon. The implication that Clough was a loser is hardly fair, given that he is thought by many to have been one of the greatest nineteenth-century poets (but see line 80: "For Time, not Corydon, hath conquer'd thee"). [2]

Arnold's decision to imitate a Latin pastoral is ironic in that Clough was best known for The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich , subtitled "a long-vacation pastoral": a thoroughly modern poem which broke all the rules of classical pastoral poetry.

Oxford's dreaming spires

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty's heightening

From "Thyrsis" (1865)

Arnold's poem is remembered above all for its lines describing the view of Oxford from Boars Hill. Portions of Thyrsis also appear in An Oxford Elegy by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

See also

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An Oxford Elegy is a work for narrator, small mixed chorus and small orchestra, written by Ralph Vaughan Williams between 1947 and 1949. It uses portions of two poems by Matthew Arnold, "The Scholar Gipsy" and "Thyrsis". The first performance took place privately, whilst the public premiere took place in Oxford in June 1952, with Steuart Wilson as the speaker and Bernard Rose conductor.

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"The Scholar-Gipsy" (1853) is a poem by Matthew Arnold, based on a 17th-century Oxford story found in Joseph Glanvill's The Vanity of Dogmatizing. It has often been called one of the best and most popular of Arnold's poems, and is also familiar to music-lovers through Ralph Vaughan Williams' choral work An Oxford Elegy, which sets lines from this poem and from its companion-piece, "Thyrsis".

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Idyll I, sometimes called Θύρσις ('Thyrsis'), is a bucolic poem by the 3rd-century BC Greek poet Theocritus which takes the form of a dialogue between two rustics in a pastoral setting. Thyrsis meets a goatherd in a shady place beside a spring, and at his invitation sings the story of Daphnis. This ideal hero of Greek pastoral song had won for his bride the fairest of the Nymphs. Confident in the strength of his passion, he boasted that Love could never subdue him to a new affection. Love avenged himself by making Daphnis desire a strange maiden, but to this temptation he never yielded, and so died a constant lover. The song tells how the cattle and the wild things of the wood bewailed him, how Hermes and Priapus gave him counsel in vain, and how with his last breath he retorted the taunts of Aphrodite.

Eclogue 5 is a pastoral poem by the Latin poet Virgil, one of his book of ten poems known as the Eclogues. In form, this is an expansion of the first Idyll of Theocritus, which contains a song about the death of the semi-divine herdsman Daphnis. In the first half of Virgil's poem, the goatherd Mopsus sings a song lamenting the death of Daphnis; in the second half, his friend Menalcas sings a song of equal length telling of Daphnis' welcome among the gods, and the rites paid to him as a divinity.

Eclogue 7 is a poem by the Latin poet Virgil, one of his book of ten pastoral poems known as the Eclogues. It is an amoebaean poem in which a herdsman Meliboeus recounts a contest between the shepherd Thyrsis and the goatherd Corydon.


  1. "Summary of Thyrsis". Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  2. 1 2 "Thyrsis | poem by Arnold". Encyclopedia Britannica . Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  3. "Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909".