Matthew Arnold: Poems

Matthew Arnold: Poems Character List


Marguerite often serves as the object of Arnold's affections; it is unknown whether or not she actually existed. In this collection, she features as a symbol of transcendence in "To Marguerite: Continued," "A Dream," and "Absence."

Matthew Arnold

Arguably, the speaker in many of the poems is Arnold himself. He describes his life encounters and very clearly states his opinions on the world. Nevertheless, the speakers are also detailed as separate characters in this ClassicNote.

the Scholar-Gipsy

The scholar-gipsy is an almost mythical figure who left his studies at Oxford to join a band of gypsies, according to a famous story by Joseph Glanvill. He serves as a symbol of independence and transcendence for Arnold, who admires his strength and persistence.


Thyrsis is a mythological figure who features in Virgil's poetry. Arnold uses the figure as a metaphor for his deceased friend Arthur Hugh Clough in "Thyrsis." Arnold blames Thyrsis/Clough for having run away from the search for truth.

speaker of "A Wish

This dying man insists that he does not want a conventional funeral, but instead wants to be placed by a window to look out at the countryside while he dies.

the Bacchanalia

In "Bacchanalia," this group (associated with the followers of the god Bacchus in the ancient world) represents the New Age as they trample out in the fields, destroying the serenity there.

the moon

In "A Summer Night," the moon is personified, and asks the speaker why he is so restless.

two young lovers

In "Consolation," these two lovers are at the mercy of time; they want their hour together to last forever, but their wish is not granted.

Goddess of Destiny

In "Consolation," this goddess refuses to grant the two young lovers more time together.

speaker of "Absence

This man has been separated from his lover, but cannot escape his passion for her.

the young bride

In "Austerity of Poetry," the speaker's bride attracts attention because of her beauty, but is ultimately revealed to wear only a sackcloth robe.


A mythological man who (along with his lover Harmonia) was turned into a serpent, and whose situation Arnold admires in "Cadmus and Harmonia."


A mythological goddess who (along with her lover Cadmus) was turned into a serpent, and whose situation Arnold admires in "Cadmus and Harmonia."

a weaver

In "East London," this weaver is upset and dispirited.

the preacher

Unlike the weaver, the preacher in "East London" is cheered by thoughts of Christ.

the tramp

In "West London," this beggar woman sits with her baby and sends her daughter to beg from other working men.


Apollo is the Greek and Roman god of the sun and of music, and a figure the speaker admires in "Apollo Musagetes."

the muses

The muses are Apollo's following in "Apollo Musagetes." The speaker admires their serenity.

speaker of "A Summer Night

This man feels restless, torn between his desire for conformity and his pull towards individuality.

speaker of "Consolation

This man reflects on the complications and mystery of time.

speaker of "The Scholar-Gipsy

This man, presumably Arnold himself, admires the courage of the scholar-gispy, and laments himself for lacking such intensity, since he hates the modern world.


This woman and her friend Marguerite entice the men of "A Dream" from their beautiful cottage.


This man rides the river of life along with the speaker of "A Dream."

speaker of "A Dream

This man floats along the river of life along with his friend Martin.

speaker of "Thyrsis

As he walks the countryside near Oxford, this man, presumably Arnold himself, thinks on the demise of Thyrsis, blaming the latter man for having left his quest for truth.


In ancient myth, this figure defeated Thyrsis in a singing match, leading to the latter's death.

speaker of "Dover Beach

This man sits with his beloved looking out over the English Channel from their cottage window, reflecting on how the world changes.

speaker of "Bacchanalia

This man reflects on both the serenity of the countryside and the world's changing ways, drawing a connection between the two.

"son of Italy"

This man brings the young bride to the show in "Austerity of Poetry."

speaker of "East London

This man reflects on different attitudes towards life as he walks through the neighborhood of East London and meets a weaver and a preacher.

speaker of "West London

This man watches a tramp beg from working men but not from rich men, and reflects on the injustice of the modern world.

speaker of "From the Hymn of Empedocles

This man (presumably Empedocles himself) insists that people must stop dreaming of the future and instead enjoy the present.

listener of "From the Hymn of Empedocles

The speaker of this poem addresses the listener with his ideas, admitting that neither of them have much to count on in life.

speaker of "Apollo Musagetes

This man is trapped near the volcano of Mount Etna, but admires the serenity that Apollo and the muses are able to achieve elsewhere.

speaker of "Epilogue to Lessing’s Laocoön

This man discusses the difficulties and limitations of poetry with his friend.