‘Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,
Exhaust the energy of strongest souls,
And numb the elastic powers.
These lines are extracted from the poem The Scholar Gipsy, a pastoral elegy by Matthew Arnold. Here, he implies a graphic contrast between the unfailing ideal of the scholar gipsy and the unsteady mode of living of modern men and women.
The incident, narrated in Glanvil’s book about an Oxford scholar, took place actually some two hundred years back. As a mortal being the scholar gipsy ought to have been dead by this time. But the poet feels that he was essentially different from other men and women, and could not, therefore, die like them. The poet refers particularly to the changing ideals and shifting aims of the modern age that have been realised in exhaustion and frustration in modern men and women. Those men and women are found to lack constancy, mental strength, devotion or dedication to any objective or purpose. They constantly make changes of their plans and programmes and thereby subject themselves to the shocks of life. They are also confronted with frustration. Time and again their mental vigour is adversely affected by shocks and frustrations and even their very vitality is much weakened. The scholar gipsy, however, was freed from such woes and worries and never subjected himself to the constant care and frustration of modern life.
What Arnold wants to indicate here is that the scholar gipsy had a different mode of living and different ideal to pursue. So he could not certainly face the misery and despair of the modern age. The passage contains an implied comparison between what modern life is and what it ought to have been. This is a part of Arnold’s theory that poetry is at the bottom à criticism of life. Of course, Arnold’s pessimistic outlook is definitely noted here.