Arnold is famous for the elegiac note in his poetry. In Victorian age many new inventions questioned the veracity of religious faiths. As a result, there was the conflict between science and religion, hope and doubt. Thus, there was a spiritual crisis. A sensitive poet, Arnold has depicted this crisis with agonized heart and elegiac tone.
Like Shelley’s elegy ‘Adonais’, ‘The Scholar Gipsy’ has a pastoral sitting. Arnold wishes to say that nature can provide retreat for a man who is distressed by the materialism of the urban world. The Scholar Gipsy could not cope with the materialism of the urban life and become a member of the gipsy society. Again, the Scholar Gipsy lived almost two hundred years ago. That age was peaceful, calm and quiet. People then were not torn by doubt and uncertainty regarding religion. The Scholar Gipsy had ‘one aim, one business, one desire’. He did not see the maladies of the present time. Victorian people have no definite aim. They shift from one ideal to another and, in that sense; they live a thousand different lives. Arnold is so disgusted with the present society that he urges the Scholar Gipsy to fly like the legendary Dido; otherwise, he may be contaminated.
In ‘Dover Beach’, Arnold is more specific in revealing the cause of his sadness. In this poem, he depicts a beautiful picture of the sea only to relate that it reminds him of human suffering. The grating roar of the withdrawing pebbles brings in his mind ‘the eternal note of sadness’. The waves of the sea are a reminder of the violent and threatening process. In this poem, Arnold uses sea as a metaphor for religious faith. ‘The Sea of Faith’ was once ‘at the full’ but now the poet hears ‘Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar’. Arnold laments the loss of religious faith in the present world of scientific discovery and commercial progress. People are living as confused as ‘ignorant armies’ who ‘clash by night’. In such a harsh, insecure and exposed world, only personal love can offer the meaning of life.
In ‘Thyrsis’ Arnold laments the death of a golden age. In his student-days at Oxford the hill-slopes used to be overgrown with bushes and shrubs, full of different kind of flowers, cowslips, and spiked orchids, which could be seen from afar. But now these flowers are seen no more. The bank on the Thames has now been brought under cultivation. In the place of natural vegetation modern farms have been developed. Now, among flowers, only primroses are to be found in the hidden recesses of the brook. As the primroses are the sole remnants of the flowery spring season, they appear as orphans. Thus, Arnold laments the death of golden age that is symbolized by the flowery prime of the Oxford countryside.
Thus, in his poems, Arnold depicts the tragedy of the modern life. He looks at the baffling problems of his age and laments them with sad heart. He writes with elegiac note the death of the spiritual values of his society.