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Starr'd the cool turf and clumps of primroses
Ran out from the dark underwood behind.
The orchis is another interesting wild flower that Arnold lays store by. We found it above in the company of the anemone and the bluebell, mention being made of its spotted leaves.
High tower'd the spikes of purple orchises.
The orchis red gleams everywhere;
Gold furze with brooms in blossom vies.
Poems like The Scholar Gipsy and Thyrsis, where the local colour is entirely from Oxford, are a perfect repertory of Oxfordshire botany. It is clear that Arnold was a botanist, and took pleasure in searching for and identifying the local flora.
Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave
The red fruit of the yew is worth noting.
The sweet spring days,
With whitening hedges, and uncrumpling fern,
I know the wood where hides the daffodil,
I know what white, what purple fritillaries
Above by Ensham, down by Sandford, yields.
Red loose-strife and blond meadow-sweet among.
Note the "blond" as a new and exact descriptive epithet for the queen of the meadow.
These extracts lose much by being set down in isolation. Their full charm comes only to those who read the two poems through, and who have some knowledge of the environs of "that sweet city with her dreaming spires".
Other flowers not usually found in verse are the monkshood, the saffron, the hollyhock, and the sea-stock,
There its dusky blue clusters
The aconite spreads. (Monkshood.)
The boundless, waving grass plains stretch, thick-starred
With saffron and the yellow hollyhock
And flag-leaved iris flowers.
We went up the beach by the sandy down
Where the sea-stocks bloom.
This is Matthiola sinuata, the sea-stock gilliflower.
Arnold is not perhaps a profound botanist, but he knows all the plants of his own locality, and knows where to find them. Moreover, he takes pleasure in describing them for himself, with fresh epithets of his own, unborrowed from scientific manuals.
MATTHEW ARNOLD'S BIRDS
THE exploring of rural districts, waste places, woods, hill-sides and river banks for rare flowers, and the identifying of the specimens there found, do not play a large part in modern botany; but such a pastime gives a pleasure all its own. It is clear from the passages already quoted that Arnold tasted the joy of wandering, Flora in hand, and making the acquaintance of new faces, as well as recognising old friends like the fritillaries and the gentians in their fresh spring garb. With the flowers go the birds, and Arnold was of necessity also a bird lover. His aviary is not extensive, and does not include many birds that find place in poetic effusions. The lark and the linnet are not in it, and his reference to song-birds generally and the sweetness of their music is of the most meagre. He is more concerned with their habits, migration, food, flight, and with tragic incidents in their life.
The swallow is much in evidence in his poetry, as well as the stork and the sea-fowl, and game-birds like the grouse and the partridge. His descriptions, as with those of flowers, are not conventional or trite, but are drawn directly from the object, pictures painted from his own observation. He once or twice mentions the thrush, the cuckoo, and the blackbird, and he has devoted one short poem to Philomela—the nightingale; "the speckled missel-thrush"; "In the pines the thrush is waking"; "The blackbird picking food ".
The cuckoo, loud on some high lawn,
Is answer'd from the depth of dawn.
Brought by the west wind, returns
Back to your native heaths,
And the plover is heard on the moors.
Between the waves and black o'erhanging cliffs,
The shining seafowl, that with screams
On the cliff-side the pigeons
Roost deep on the rocks.
The phenomena of migration have great interest for him, whether drawn from his own observation or gathered from books of travel. Take this