These are the top twenty (20) most popular poems of Matthew Arnold.
From The Youth of Nature to A Nameless Epitaph.
If you want to know his greatest poems of all time, then this poetry collection is for you.
The Youth of Nature
Raised are the dripping oars,
Silent the boat! the lake,
Lovely and soft as a dream,
Swims in the sheen of the moon.
The mountains stand at its head
Clear in the pure June-night,
But the valleys are flooded with haze.
Rydal and Fairfield are there;
In the shadow Wordsworth lies dead.
So it is, so it will be for aye.
Nature is fresh as of old,
Is lovely; a mortal is dead.
The spots which recall him survive,
For he lent a new life to these hills.
The Pillar still broods o’er the fields
Which border Ennerdale Lake,
And Egremont sleeps by the sea.
The gleam of The Evening Star
Twinkles on Grasmere no more,
But ruin’d and solemn and grey
The sheepfold of Michael survives;
And, far to the south, the heath
Still blows in the Quantock coombs,
By the favourite waters of Ruth.
These survive! yet not without pain,
Pain and dejection to-night,
Can I feel that their poet is gone.
He grew old in an age he condemn’d.
He look’d on the rushing decay
Of the times which had shelter’d his youth
Felt the dissolving throes
Of a social order he loved;
Outlived his brethren, his peers;
And, like the Theban seer,
Died in his enemies’ day.
Cold bubbled the spring of Tilphusa,
Copais lay bright in the moon,
Helicon glass’d in the lake
Its firs, and afar rose the peaks
Of Parnassus, snowily clear;
Thebes was behind him in flames,
And the clang of arms in his ear,
When his awe-struck captors led
The Theban seer to the spring.
Tiresias drank and died.
Nor did reviving Thebes
See such a prophet again.
Well may we mourn, when the head
Of a sacred poet lies low
In an age which can rear them no more!
The complaining millions of men
Darken in labour and pain;
But he was a priest to us all
Of the wonder and bloom of the world,
Which we saw with his eyes, and were glad.
He is dead, and the fruit-bearing day
Of his race is past on the earth;
And darkness returns to our eyes.
For, oh! is it you, is it you,
Moonlight, and shadow, and lake,
And mountains, that fill us with joy,
Or the poet who sings you so well?
Is it you, O beauty, O grace,
O charm, O romance, that we feel,
Or the voice which reveals what you are?
Are ye, like daylight and sun,
Shared and rejoiced in by all?
Or are ye immersed in the mass
Of matter, and hard to extract,
Or sunk at the core of the world
Too deep for the most to discern?
Like stars in the deep of the sky,
Which arise on the glass of the sage,
But are lost when their watcher is gone.
“They are here” I heard, as men heard
In Mysian Ida the voice
Of the Mighty Mother, or Crete,
The murmur of Nature reply
“Loveliness, magic, and grace,
They are here! they are set in the world,
They abide; and the finest of souls
Hath not been thrill’d by them all,
Nor the dullest been dead to them quite.
The poet who sings them may die,
But they are immortal and live,
For they are the life of the world.
Will ye not learn it, and know,
When ye mourn that a poet is dead,
That the singer was less than his themes,
Life, and emotion, and I?
“More than the singer are these.
Weak is the tremor of pain
That thrills in his mournfullest chord
To that which once ran through his soul.
Cold the elation of joy
In his gladdest, airiest song,
To that which of old in his youth
Fill’d him and made him divine.
Hardly his voice at its best
Gives us a sense of the awe,
The vastness, the grandeur, the gloom
Of the unlit gulph of himself.
“Ye know not yourselves; and your bards
The clearest, the best, who have read
Most in themselves have beheld
Less than they left unreveal’d.
Ye express not yourselves; can you make
With marble, with colour, with word,
What charm’d you in others re-live?
Can thy pencil, O artist! restore
The figure, the bloom of thy love,
As she was in her morning of spring?
Canst thou paint the ineffable smile
Of her eyes as they rested on thine?
Can the image of life have the glow,
The motion of life itself?
“Yourselves and your fellows ye know not; and me, The mateless, the one, will ye know? Will ye scan me, and read me, and tell Of the thoughts that ferment in my breast, My longing, my sadness, my joy? Will ye claim for your great ones the gift To have render’d the gleam of my skies, To have echoed the moan of my seas, Utter’d the voice of my hills? When your great ones depart, will ye say: All things have suffer’d a loss, Nature is hid in their grave?
“Race after race, man after man,
Have thought that my secret was theirs,
Have dream’d that I lived but for them,
That they were my glory and joy.
They are dust, they are changed, they are gone!
Men of Genius
Silent, the Lord of the world
Eyes from the heavenly height,
Girt by his far-shining train,
Us, who with banners unfurl’d
Fight life’s many-chanc’d fight
Madly below, in the plain.
Then saith the Lord to his own:—
‘See ye the battle below?
Turmoil of death and of birth!
Too long let we them groan.
Haste, arise ye, and go;
Carry my peace upon earth.’
Gladly they rise at his call;
Gladly they take his command;
Gladly descend to the plain.
Alas! How few of them all—
Those willing servants—shall stand
In their Master’s presence again!
Some in the tumult are lost:
Baffled, bewilder’d, they stray.
Some as prisoners draw breath.
Others—the bravest—are cross’d,
On the height of their bold-follow’d way,
By the swift-rushing missile of Death.
Hardly, hardly shall one
Come, with countenance bright,
O’er the cloud-wrapt, perilous plain:
His Master’s errand well done,
Safe through the smoke of the fight,
Back to his Master again.
A Summer Night
In the deserted, moon-blanched street,
How lonely rings the echo of my feet!
Those windows, which I gaze at, frown,
Silent and white, unopening down,
Repellent as the world, but see,
A break between the housetops shows
The moon! and lost behind her, fading dim
Into the dewy dark obscurity
Down at the far horizon’s rim,
Doth a whole tract of heaven disclose!
And to my mind the thought
Is on a sudden brought
Of a past night, and a far different scene:
Headlands stood out into the moonlit deep
As clearly as at noon;
The spring-tide’s brimming flow
Heaved dazzlingly between;
Houses, with long wide sweep,
Girdled the glistening bay;
Behind, through the soft air,
The blue haze-cradled mountains spread away.
That night was far more fair
But the same restless pacings to and fro,
And the same vainly throbbing heart was there,
And the same bright, calm moon.
And the calm moonlight seems to say:
Hast thou then still the old unquiet breast,
Which neither deadens into rest,
Nor ever feels the fiery glow
That whirls the spirit from itself away,
But fluctuates to and fro,
Never by passion quite possessed
And never quite benumbed by the world’s sway?
And I, I know not if to pray
Still to be what I am, or yield, and be
Like all the other men I see.
For most men in a brazen prison live,
Where, in the sun’s hot eye,
With heads bent o’er their toil, they languidly
Their lives to some unmeaning taskwork give,
Dreaming of naught beyond their prison wall.
And as, year after year,
Fresh products of their barren labor fall
From their tired hands, and rest
Never yet comes more near,
Gloom settles slowly down over their breast.
And while they try to stem
The waves of mournful thought by which they are prest,
Death in their prison reaches them,
Unfreed, having seen nothing, still unblest.
And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth will sail;
Nor doth he know how there prevail,
Despotic on that sea.
Trade-winds which cross it from eternity:
Awhile he holds some false way, undebarred
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves.
And then the tempest strikes him; and between
The lightning bursts is seen
Only a driving wreck,
And the pale master on his spar-strewn deck
With anguished face and flying hair
Grasping the rudder hard,
Still bent to make some port he knows not where,
Still standing for some false, impossible shore.
And sterner comes the roar
Of sea and wind, and through the deepening gloom
Fainter and fainter wreck and helmsman loom,
And he too disappears, and comes no more.
Is there no life, but these alone?
Madman or slave, must man be one?
Plainness and clearness without shadow of stain!
Ye heavens, whose pure dark regions have no sign
Of languor, though so calm, and though so great
Are yet untroubled and unpassionate;
Who, though so noble, share in the world’s toil,
And, though so tasked, keep free from dust and soil!
I will not say that your mild deeps retain
A tinge, it may be, of their silent pain
Who have longed deeply once, and longed in vain
But I will rather say that you remain
A world above man’s head, to let him see
How boundless might his soul’s horizons be,
How vast, yet of what clear transparency!
How it were good to live there, and breathe free;
How fair a lot to fill
Is left to each man still!
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Was it a dream? We sail’d, I thought we sail’d,
Martin and I, down the green Alpine stream,
Border’d, each bank, with pines; the morning sun,
On the wet umbrage of their glossy tops,
On the red pinings of their forest-floor,
Drew a warm scent abroad; behind the pines
The mountain-skirts, with all their sylvan change
Of bright-leaf’d chestnuts and moss’d walnut-trees
And the frail scarlet-berried ash, began.
Swiss chalets glitter’d on the dewy slopes,
And from some swarded shelf, high up, there came
Notes of wild pastoral music–over all
Ranged, diamond-bright, the eternal wall of snow.
Upon the mossy rocks at the stream’s edge,
Back’d by the pines, a plank-built cottage stood,
Bright in the sun; the climbing gourd-plant’s leaves
Muffled its walls, and on the stone-strewn roof
Lay the warm golden gourds; golden, within,
Under the eaves, peer’d rows of Indian corn.
We shot beneath the cottage with the stream.
On the brown, rude-carved balcony, two forms
Came forth–Olivia’s, Marguerite! and thine.
Clad were they both in white, flowers in their breast;
Straw hats bedeck’d their heads, with ribbons blue,
Which danced, and on their shoulders, fluttering, play’d.
They saw us, they conferred; their bosoms heaved,
And more than mortal impulse fill’d their eyes.
Their lips moved; their white arms, waved eagerly,
Flash’d once, like falling streams; we rose, we gazed.
One moment, on the rapid’s top, our boat
Hung poised–and then the darting river of Life
(Such now, methought, it was), the river of Life,
Loud thundering, bore us by; swift, swift it foam’d,
Black under cliffs it raced, round headlands shone.
Soon the plank’d cottage by the sun-warm’d pines
Faded–the moss–the rocks; us burning plains,
Bristled with cities, us the sea received.
A Caution To Poets
What poets feel not, when they make,
A pleasure in creating,
The world, in its turn, will not take
Pleasure in contemplating
I ask not that my bed of death
From bands of greedy heirs be free;
For these besiege the latest breath
Of fortune’s favoured sons, not me.
I ask not each kind soul to keep
Tearless, when of my death he hears;
Let those who will, if any, weep!
There are worse plagues on earth than tears.
I ask but that my death may find
The freedom to my life denied;
Ask but the folly of mankind,
Then, at last, to quit my side.
Spare me the whispering, crowded room,
The friends who come, and gape, and go;
The ceremonious air of gloom –
All which makes death a hideous show!
Nor bring, to see me cease to live,
Some doctor full of phrase and fame,
To shake his sapient head and give
The ill he cannot cure a name.
Nor fetch, to take the accustomed toll
Of the poor sinner bound for death,
His brother doctor of the soul,
To canvass with official breath
The future and its viewless things –
That undiscovered mystery
Which one who feels death’s winnowing wings
Must need read clearer, sure, than he!
Bring none of these; but let me be,
While all around in silence lies,
Moved to the window near, and see
Once more before my dying eyes
Bathed in the sacred dew of morn
The wide aerial landscape spread –
The world which was ere I was born,
The world which lasts when I am dead.
Which never was the friend of one,
Nor promised love it could not give,
But lit for all its generous sun,
And lived itself, and made us live.
There let me gaze, till I become
In soul with what I gaze on wed!
To feel the universe my home;
To have before my mind -instead
Of the sick-room, the mortal strife,
The turmoil for a little breath –
The pure eternal course of life,
Not human combatings with death.
Thus feeling, gazing, let me grow
Composed, refreshed, ennobled, clear;
Then willing let my spirit go
To work or wait elsewhere or here!
Still glides the stream, slow drops the boat
Under the rustling poplars’ shade;
Silent the swans beside us float—
None speaks, none heeds; ah, turn thy head!
Let those arch eyes now softly shine,
That mocking mouth grow sweetly bland;
Ah, let them rest, those eyes, on mine!
On mine let rest that lovely hand!
My pent-up tears oppress my brain,
My heart is swoln with love unsaid.
Ah, let me weep, and tell my pain,
And on thy shoulder rest my head!
Before I die—before the soul,
Which now is mine, must re-attain
Immunity from my control,
And wander round the world again;
Before this teased o’erlabour’d heart
For ever leaves its vain employ,
Dead to its deep habitual smart,
And dead to hopes of future joy.
Each on his own strict line we move,
And some find death ere they find love;
So far apart their lives are thrown
From the twin soul which halves their own.
And sometimes, by still harder fate,
The lovers meet, but meet too late.
—Thy heart is mine!—True, true! ah, true!
—Then, love, thy hand!—Ah no! adieu!
Stop!—not to me, at this bitter departing,
Speak of the sure consolations of time!
Fresh be the wound, still-renew’d be its smarting,
So but thy image endure in its prime.
But, if the stedfast commandment of Nature
Wills that remembrance should always decay—
If the loved form and the deep-cherish’d feature
Must, when unseen, from the soul fade away—
Me let no half-effaced memories cumber!
Fled, fled at once, be all vestige of thee!
Deep be the darkness and still be the slumber—
Dead be the past and its phantoms to me!
Then, when we meet, and thy look strays toward me,
Scanning my face and the changes wrought there:
Who, let me say, is this stranger regards me, With the grey eyes, and the lovely brown hair?
ON THE RHINE
Vain is the effort to forget.
Some day I shall be cold, I know,
As is the eternal moonlit snow
Of the high Alps, to which I go—
But ah! not yet, not yet!
Vain is the agony of grief.
‘Tis true, indeed, an iron knot
Ties straitly up from mine thy lot,
And were it snapt—thou lov’st me not!
But is despair relief?
Awhile let me with thought have done.
And as this brimm’d unwrinkled Rhine,
And that far purple mountain-line,
Lie sweetly in the look divine
Of the slow-sinking sun;
So let me lie, and, calm as they,
Let beam upon my inward view
Those eyes of deep, soft, lucent hue—
Eyes too expressive to be blue,
Too lovely to be grey.
Ah, Quiet, all things feel thy balm!
Those blue hills too, this river’s flow,
Were restless once, but long ago.
Tamed is their turbulent youthful glow;
Their joy is in their calm.
Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For then the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.
Come, as thou cam’st a thousand times,
A messenger from radiant climes,
And smile on thy new world, and be
As kind to others as to me!
Or, as thou never cam’st in sooth,
Come now, and let me dream it truth;
And part my hair, and kiss my brow,
And say: My love! why sufferest thou?
Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For then the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.
Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.
Come, as thou cam’st a thousand times,
A messenger from radiant climes,
And smile on thy new world, and be
As kind to others as to me!
Or, as thou never cam’st in sooth,
Come now, and let me dream it truth,
And part my hair, and kiss my brow,
And say, My love why sufferest thou?
Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.
True, we must tame our rebel will:
True, we must bow to Nature’s law:
Must bear in silence many an ill;
Must learn to wait, renounce, withdraw.
Yet now, when boldest wills give place,
When Fate and Circumstance are strong,
And in their rush the human race
Are swept, like huddling sheep, along;
Those sterner spirits let me prize,
Who, though the tendence of the whole
They less than us might recognize,
Kept, more than us, their strength of soul.
Yes, be the second Cato (1) prais’d!
Not that he took the course to die—
But that, when ’gainst himself he rais’d
His arm, he rais’d it dauntlessly.
And, Byron! let us dare admire,
If not thy fierce and turbid song,
Yet that, in anguish, doubt, desire,
Thy fiery courage still was strong.
The sun that on thy tossing pain
Did with such cold derision shine,
He crush’d thee not with his disdain—
He had his glow, and thou hadst thine.
Our bane, disguise it as we may,
Is weakness, is a faltering course.
Oh that past times could give our day,
Join’d to its clearness, of their force!
In this fair stranger’s eyes of grey
Thine eyes, my love, I see.
I shudder: for the passing day
Had borne me far from thee.
This is the curse of life: that not
A nobler calmer train
Of wiser thoughts and feelings blot
Our passions from our brain;
But each day brings its petty dust
Our soon-chok’d souls to fill,
And we forget because we must,
And not because we will.
I struggle towards the light; and ye,
Once-long’d-for storms of love!
If with the light ye cannot be,
I bear that ye remove.
I struggle towards the light; but oh,
While yet the night is chill,
Upon Time’s barren, stormy flow,
Stay with me, Marguerite, still!
Journey to The Dead
Forth from the East, up the ascent of Heaven,
Day drove his courser with the Shining Mane;
And in Valhalla, from his gable perch,
The golden-crested Cock began to crow:
Hereafter, in the blackest dead of night,
With shrill and dismal cries that Bird shall crow,
Warning the Gods that foes draw nigh to Heaven;
But now he crew at dawn, a cheerful note,
To wake the Gods and Heroes to their tasks.
And all the Gods, and all the Heroes, woke.
And from their beds the Heroes rose, and donn’d
Their arms, and led their horses from the stall,
And mounted them, and in Valhalla’s court
Were rang’d; and then the daily fray began.
And all day long they there are hack’d and hewn
’Mid dust, and groans, and limbs lopp’d off, and blood;
But all at night return to Odin’s hall
Woundless and fresh: such lot is theirs in Heaven.
And the Valkyries on their steeds went forth
Toward Earth and fights of men; and at their side
Skulda, the youngest of the Nornies, rode:
And over Bifrost, where is Heimdall’s watch,
Past Midgard Fortress, down to Earth they came:
There through some battle-field, where men fall fast,
Their horses fetlock-deep in blood, they ride,
And pick the bravest warriors out for death,
Whom they bring back with them at night to Heaven,
To glad the Gods, and feast in Odin’s hall.
But the Gods went not now, as otherwhile,
Into the Tilt-Yard, where the Heroes fought,
To feast their eyes with looking on the fray:
Nor did they to their Judgement-Place repair
By the ash Igdrasil, in Ida’s plain,
Where they hold council, and give laws for men:
But they went, Odin first, the rest behind,
To the hall Gladheim, which is built of gold;
Where are in circle rang’d twelve golden chairs,
And in the midst one higher, Odin’s throne:
There all the Gods in silence sate them down;
And thus the Father of the Ages spake:—
Go quickly, Gods, bring wood to the seashore,
With all, which it beseems the dead to have
And make a funeral pile on Balder’s ship.
On the twelfth day the Gods shall burn his corpse.
But Hermod, thou, take Sleipner, and ride down
To Hela’s kingdom, to ask Balder back.’
So said he; and the Gods arose, and took
Axes and ropes, and at their head came Thor,
Shouldering his Hammer, which the Giants know:
Forth wended they, and drove their steeds before:
And up the dewy mountain tracks they far’d
To the dark forests, in the early dawn;
And up and down and side and slant they roam’d:
And from the glens all day an echo came
Of crashing falls; for with his hammer Thor
Smote ’mid the rocks the lichen-bearded pines
And burst their roots; while to their tops the Gods
Made fast the woven ropes, and hal’d them down,
And lopp’d their boughs, and clove them on the sward,
And bound the logs behind their steeds to draw,
And drove them homeward; and the snorting steeds
Went straining through the crackling brushwood down,
And by the darkling forest paths the Gods
Follow’d, and on their shoulders carried boughs.
And they came out upon the plain, and pass’d
Asgard, and led their horses to the beach,
And loos’d them of their loads on the seashore,
And rang’d the wood in stacks by Balder’s ship;
And every God went home to his own house.
But when the Gods were to the forest gone
Hermod led Sleipner from Valhalla forth
And saddled him; before that, Sleipner brook’d
No meaner hand than Odin’s on his mane,
On his broad back no lesser rider bore:
Yet docile now he stood at Hermod’s side,
Arching his neck, and glad to be bestrode,
Knowing the God they went to seek, how dear.
But Hermod mounted him, and sadly far’d,
In silence, up the dark untravell’d road
Which branches from the north of Heaven, and went
All day; and Daylight wan’d, and Night came on.
And all that night he rode, and journey’d so,
Nine days, nine nights, towards the northern ice,
Through valleys deep-engulph’d, by roaring streams:
And on the tenth morn he beheld the bridge
Which spans with golden arches Giall’s stream,
And on the bridge a Damsel watching arm’d,
In the strait passage, at the further end,
Where the road issues between walling rocks.
Scant space that Warder left for passers by;
But, as when cowherds in October drive
Their kine across a snowy mountain pass
To winter pasture on the southern side,
And on the ridge a wagon chokes the way,
Wedg’d in the snow; then painfully the hinds
With goad and shouting urge their cattle past,
Plunging through deep untrodden banks of snow
To right and left, and warm steam fills the air—
So on the bridge that Damsel block’d the way,
And question’d Hermod as he came, and said:—
‘Who art thou on thy black and fiery horse
Under whose hoofs the bridge o’er Giall’s stream
Rumbles and shakes? Tell me thy race and home.
But yestermorn five troops of dead pass’d by
Bound on their way below to Hela’s realm,
Nor shook the bridge so much as thou alone.
And thou hast flesh and colour on thy cheeks
Like men who live and draw the vital air;
Nor look’st thou pale and wan, like men deceas’d,
Souls bound below, my daily passers here.’
And the fleet-footed Hermod answer’d her:—
‘O Damsel, Hermod am I call’d, the son
Of Odin; and my high-roof’d house is built
Far hence, in Asgard, in the City of Gods:
And Sleipner, Odin’s horse, is this I ride.
And I come, sent this road on Balder’s track:
Say then, if he hath cross’d thy bridge or no?’
He spake; the Warder of the bridge replied:—
‘O Hermod, rarely do the feet of Gods
Or of the horses of the Gods resound
Upon my bridge; and, when they cross, I know.
Balder hath gone this way, and taken the road
Below there, to the north, toward Hela’s realm.
From here the cold white mist can be discern’d,
Not lit with sun, but through the darksome air
By the dim vapour-blotted light of stars,
Which hangs over the ice where lies the road.
For in that ice are lost those northern streams
Freezing and ridging in their onward flow,
Which from the fountain of Vergelmer run,
The spring that bubbles up by Hela’s throne.
There are the joyless seats, the haunt of ghosts,
Hela’s pale swarms; and there was Balder bound.
Ride on; pass free: but he by this is there.’
She spake, and stepp’d aside, and left him room.
And Hermod greeted her, and gallop’d by
Across the bridge; then she took post again.
But northward Hermod rode, the way below:
And o’er a darksome tract, which knows no sun,
But by the blotted light of stars, he far’d;
And he came down to Ocean’s northern strand
At the drear ice, beyond the Giants’ home:
Thence on he journey’d o’er the fields of ice
Still north, until he met a stretching wall
Barring his way, and in the wall a grate.
Then he dismounted, and drew tight the girths,
On the smooth ice, of Sleipner, Odin’s horse,
And made him leap the grate, and came within.
And he beheld spread round him Hela’s realm,
The plains of Niflheim, where dwell the dead,
And heard the thunder of the streams of Hell.
For near the wall the river of Roaring flows,
Outmost: the others near the centre run—
The Storm, the Abyss, the Howling, and the Pain:
These flow by Hela’s throne, and near their spring.
And from the dark flock’d up the shadowy tribes:
And as the swallows crowd the bulrush-beds
Of some clear river, issuing from a lake,
On autumn days, before they cross the sea;
And to each bulrush-crest a swallow hangs
Swinging, and others skim the river streams,
And their quick twittering fills the banks and shores—
So around Hermod swarm’d the twittering ghosts.
Women, and infants, and young men who died
Too soon for fame, with white ungraven shields;
And old men, known to Glory, but their star
Betray’d them, and of wasting age they died,
Not wounds: yet, dying, they their armour wore,
And now have chief regard in Hela’s realm.
Behind flock’d wrangling up a piteous crew,
Greeted of none, disfeatur’d and forlorn—
Cowards, who were in sloughs interr’d alive:
And round them still the wattled hurdles hung
Wherewith they stamp’d them down, and trod them deep,
To hide their shameful memory from men.
But all he pass’d unhail’d, and reach’d the throne
Of Hela, and saw, near it, Balder crown’d,
And Hela sat thereon, with countenance stern;
And thus bespake him first the solemn Queen:—
‘Unhappy, how hast thou endur’d to leave
The light, and journey to the cheerless land
Where idly flit about the feeble shades?
How didst thou cross the bridge o’er Giall’s stream,
Being alive, and come to Ocean’s shore?
Or how o’erleap the grate that bars the wall?’
She spake: but down off Sleipner Hermond sprang,
And fell before her feet, and clasp’d her knees;
And spake, and mild entreated her, and said:—
‘O Hela, wherefore should the Gods declare
Their errands to each other, or the ways
They go? the errand and the way is known.
Thou know’st, thou know’st, what grief we have in Heaven
For Balder, whom thou hold’st by right below:
Restore him, for what part fulfils he here?
Shall he shed cheer over the cheerless seats,
And touch the apathetic ghosts with joy?
Not for such end, O Queen, thou hold’st thy realm.
For Heaven was Balder born, the City of Gods
And Heroes, where they live in light and joy:
Thither restore him, for his place is there.’
He spoke; and grave replied the solemn Queen:—
‘Hermod, for he thou art, thou Son of Heaven!
A strange unlikely errand, sure, is thine.
Do the Gods send to me to make them blest?
Small bliss my race hath of the Gods obtain’d.
Three mighty children to my Father Lok
Did Angerbode, the Giantess, bring forth—
Fenris the Wolf, the Serpent huge, and Me:
Of these the Serpent in the sea ye cast,
Who since in your despite hath wax’d amain,
And now with gleaming ring enfolds the world:
Me on this cheerless nether world ye threw
And gave me nine unlighted realms to rule:
While on his island in the lake, afar,
Made fast to the bor’d crag, by wile not strength
Subdu’d, with limber chains lives Fenris bound.
Lok still subsists in Heaven, our Father wise,
Your mate, though loath’d, and feasts in Odin’s hall;
But him too foes await, and netted snares,
And in a cave a bed of needle rocks,
And o’er his visage serpents dropping gall.
Yet he shall one day rise, and burst his bonds,
And with himself set us his offspring free,
When he guides Muspel’s children to their bourne.
Till then in peril or in pain we live,
Wrought by the Gods: and ask the Gods our aid?
Howbeit we abide our day: till then,
We do not as some feebler haters do,
Seek to afflict our foes with petty pangs,
Helpless to better us, or ruin them.
Come then; if Balder was so dear belov’d,
And this is true, and such a loss is Heaven’s—
Hear, how to Heaven may Balder be restor’d.
Show me through all the world the signs of grief:
Fails but one thing to grieve, here Balder stops:
Let all that lives and moves upon the earth
Weep him, and all that is without life weep:
Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep him; plants and stones.
So shall I know the lost was dear indeed,
And bend my heart, and give him back to Heaven.’
She spake; and Hermod answer’d her, and said:—
‘Hela, such as thou say’st, the terms shall be.
But come, declare me this, and truly tell:
May I, ere I depart, bid Balder hail?
Or is it here withheld to greet the dead?’
He spake; and straightway Hela answer’d him:—
‘Hermod, greet Balder if thou wilt, and hold
Converse: his speech remains, though he be dead.’
And straight to Balder Hermod turn’d, and spake:—
‘Even in the abode of Death, O Balder, hail!
Thou hear’st, if hearing, like as speech, is thine,
The terms of thy releasement hence to Heaven:
Fear nothing but that all shall be fulfill’d.
For not unmindful of thee are the Gods
Who see the light, and blest in Asgard dwell;
Even here they seek thee out, in Hela’s realm.
And sure of all the happiest far art thou
Who ever have been known in Earth or Heaven:
Alive, thou wert of Gods the most belov’d:
And now thou sittest crown’d by Hela’s side,
Here, and hast honour among all the dead.’
He spake; and Balder utter’d him reply,
But feebly, as a voice far off; he said:—
‘Hermod the nimble, gild me not my death.
Better to live a slave, a captur’d man,
Who scatters rushes in a master’s hall,
Than be a crown’d king here, and rule the dead.
And now I count not of these terms as safe
To be fulfill’d, nor my return as sure,
Though I be lov’d, and many mourn my death:
For double-minded ever was the seed
Of Lok, and double are the gifts they give.
Howbeit, report thy message; and therewith,
To Odin, to my Father, take this ring,
Memorial of me, whether sav’d or no:
And tell the Heaven-born Gods how thou hast seen
Me sitting here below by Hela’s side,
Crown’d, having honour among all the dead.’
He spake, and rais’d his hand, and gave the ring.
And with inscrutable regard the Queen
Of Hell beheld them, and the ghosts stood dumb.
But Hermod took the ring, and yet once more
Kneel’d and did homage to the solemn Queen;
Then mounted Sleipner, and set forth to ride
Back, through the astonish’d tribes of dead, to Heaven.
And to the wall he came, and found the grate
Lifted, and issued on the fields of ice;
And o’er the ice he far’d to Ocean’s strand,
And up from thence, a wet and misty road,
To the arm’d Damsel’s bridge, and Giall’s stream.
Worse was that way to go than to return,
For him: for others all return is barr’d.
Nine days he took to go, two to return;
And on the twelfth morn saw the light of Heaven.
And as a traveller in the early dawn
To the steep edge of some great valley comes
Through which a river flows, and sees beneath
Clouds of white rolling vapours fill the vale,
But o’er them, on the farther slope, descries
Vineyards, and crofts, and pastures, bright with sun—
So Hermod, o’er the fog between, saw Heaven.
And Sleipner snorted, for he smelt the air
Of Heaven: and mightily, as wing’d, he flew.
And Hermod saw the towers of Asgard rise:
And he drew near, and heard no living voice
In Asgard; and the golden halls were dumb.
Then Hermod knew what labour held the Gods:
And through the empty streets he rode, and pass’d
Under the gate-house to the sands, and found
The Gods on the seashore by Balder’s ship.
My horse’s feet beside the lake,
Where sweet the unbroken moonbeams lay,
Sent echoes through the night to wake
Each glistening strand, each heath-fring’d bay.
The poplar avenue was pass’d,
And the roof’d bridge that spans the stream.
Up the steep street I hurried fast,
Led 2 by thy taper’s starlike beam.
I came; I saw thee rise:—the blood
Came flushing 3 to thy languid cheek.
Lock’d in each other’s arms we stood,
In tears, with hearts too full to speak.
Days flew: ah, soon I could discern
A trouble in thine alter’d air.
Thy hand lay languidly in mine—
Thy cheek was grave, thy speech grew rare.
I blame thee net:—this heart, I know,
To be long lov’d was never fram’d;
For something in its depths doth glow
Too strange, too restless, too untam’d.
And women—things that live and move
Min’d by the fever of the soul—
They seek to find in those they love
Stern strength, and promise of control.
They ask not kindness, gentle ways;
These they themselves have tried and known:
They ask a soul that never sways
With the blind gusts which shake their own.
I too have felt the load I bore
In a too strong emotion’s sway;
I too have wish’d, no woman more,
This starting, feverish heart, away:
I too have long’d for trenchant force
And will like a dividing spear;
Have prais’d the keen, unscrupulous course,
Which knows no doubt, which feels no fear.
But in the world I learnt, what there
Thou too wilt surely one day prove,
That will, that energy, though rare,
Are yet far, far less rare than love.
Go then! till Time and Fate impress
This truth on thee, be mine no more!
They will: for thou, I feel, no less
Than I, wert destin’d to this lore.
We school our manners, act our parts:
But He, who sees us through and through,
Knows that the bent of both our hearts
Was to be gentle, tranquil, true.
And though we wear out life, alas,
Distracted as a homeless wind,
In beating where we must not pass,
In seeking what we shall not find;
Yet we shall one day gain, life past,
Clear prospect o’er our being’s whole;
Shall see ourselves, and learn at last
Our true affinities of soul.
We shall not then deny a course
To every thought the mass ignore;
We shall not then call hardness force,
Nor lightness wisdom any more.
Then, in the eternal Father’s smile,
Our sooth’d, encourag’d souls will dare
To seem as free from pride and guile,
As good, as generous, as they are.
Then we shall know our friends: though much
Will have been lost—the help in strife;
The thousand sweet still joys of such
As hand in hand face earthly life;—
Though these be lost, there will be yet
A sympathy august and pure;
Ennobled by a vast regret,
And by contrition seal’d thrice sure.
And we, whose ways were unlike here,
May then more neighbouring courses ply;
May to each other be brought near,
And greet across infinity.
How sweet, unreach’d by earthly jars,
My sister! to behold with thee
The hush among the shining stars,
The calm upon the moonlit sea.
How sweet to feel, on the boon air,
All our unquiet pulses cease;
To feel that nothing can impair
The gentleness, the thirst for peace—
The gentleness too rudely hurl’d
On this wild earth of hate and fear:
The thirst for peace a raving world
Would never let us satiate here.
Thyrsis – A Monody
How changed is here each spot man makes or fills!
In the two Hinkseys nothing keeps the same;
The village street its haunted mansion lacks,
And from the sign is gone Sibylla’s name,
And from the roofs the twisted chimney-stacks
Are ye too changed, ye hills?
See, ’tis no foot of unfamiliar men
To-night from Oxford up your pathway strays!
Here came I often, often, in old days
Thyrsis and I; we still had Thyrsis then.
Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm,
Past the high wood, to where the elm-tree crowns
The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames?
The signal-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs,
The Vale, the three lone weirs, the youthful Thames?
This winter-eve is warm,
Humid the air! leafless, yet soft as spring,
The tender purple spray on copse and briers!
And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening,
Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!
Only, methinks, some loss of habit’s power
Befalls me wandering through this upland dim.
Once pass’d I blindfold here, at any hour;
Now seldom come I, since I came with him.
That single elm-tree bright
Against the westI miss it! is it goner?
We prized it dearly; while it stood, we said,
Our friend, the Gipsy-Scholar, was not dead;
While the tree lived, he in these fields lived on.
Too rare, too rare, grow now my visits here,
But once I knew each field, each flower, each stick;
And with the country-folk acquaintance made
By barn in threshing-time, by new-built rick.
Here, too, our shepherd-pipes we first assay’d.
Ah me! this many a year
My pipe is lost, my shepherd’s holiday!
Needs must I lose them, needs with heavy heart
Into the world and wave of men depart;
But Thyrsis of his own will went away.
It irk’d him to be here, he could not rest.
He loved each simple joy the country yields,
He loved his mates; but yet he could not keep,
For that a shadow lour’d on the fields,
Here with the shepherds and the silly sheep.
Some life of men unblest
He knew, which made him droop, and fill’d his head.
He went; his piping took a troubled sound
Of storms that rage outside our happy ground;
He could not wait their passing, he is dead.
So, some tempestuous morn in early June,
When the year’s primal burst of bloom is o’er,
Before the roses and the longest day
When garden-walks and all the grassy floor
With blossoms red and white of fallen May
And chestnut-flowers are strewn
So have I heard the cuckoo’s parting cry,
From the wet field, through the vext garden-trees,
Come with the volleying rain and tossing breeze:
The bloom is gone, and with the bloom go I!
Too quick despairer, wherefore wilt thou go?
Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow;
Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening-star.
He hearkens not! light comer, he is flown!
What matters it? next year he will return,
And we shall have him in the sweet spring-days,
With whitening hedges, and uncrumpling fern,
And blue-bells trembling by the forest-ways,
And scent of hay new-mown.
But Thyrsis never more we swains shall see;
See him come back, and cut a smoother reed,
And blow a strain the world at last shall heed
For Time, not Corydon, hath conquer’d thee!
Alack, for Corydon no rival now!
But when Sicilian shepherds lost a mate,
Some good survivor with his flute would go,
Piping a ditty sad for Bion’s fate;
And cross the unpermitted ferry’s flow,
And relax Pluto’s brow,
And make leap up with joy the beauteous head
Of Proserpine, among whose crowned hair
Are flowers first open’d on Sicilian air,
And flute his friend, like Orpheus, from the dead.
O easy access to the hearer’s grace
When Dorian shepherds sang to Proserpine!
For she herself had trod Sicilian fields,
She knew the Dorian water’s gush divine,
She knew each lily white which Enna yields
Each rose with blushing face;
She loved the Dorian pipe, the Dorian strain.
But ah, of our poor Thames she never heard!
Her foot the Cumner cowslips never stirr’d;
And we should tease her with our plaint in vain!
Well! wind-dispersed and vain the words will be,
Yet, Thyrsis, let me give my grief its hour
In the old haunt, and find our tree-topp’d hill!
Who, if not I, for questing here hath power?
I know the wood which hides the daffodil,
I know the Fyfield tree,
I know what white, what purple fritillaries
The grassy harvest of the river-fields,
Above by Ensham, down by Sandford, yields,
And what sedged brooks are Thames’s tributaries;
I know these slopes; who knows them if not I?
But many a tingle on the loved hillside,
With thorns once studded, old, white-blossom’d trees,
Where thick the cowslips grew, and far descried
High tower’d the spikes of purple orchises,
Hath since our day put by
The coronals of that forgotten time;
Down each green bank hath gone the ploughboy’s team,
And only in the hidden brookside gleam
Primroses, orphans of the flowery prime.
Where is the girl, who by the boatman’s door,
Above the locks, above the boating throng,
Unmoor’d our skiff when through the Wytham flats,
Red loosestrife and blond meadow-sweet among
And darting swallows and light water-gnats,
We track’d the shy Thames shore?
Where are the mowers, who, as the tiny swell
Of our boat passing heaved the river-grass,
Stood with suspended scythe to see us pass?
They all are gone, and thou art gone as well!
Yes, thou art gone! and round me too the night
In ever-nearing circle weaves her shade.
I see her veil draw soft across the day,
I feel her slowly chilling breath invade
The cheek grown thin, the brown hair sprent with grey;
I feel her finger light
Laid pausefully upon life’s headlong train;
The foot less prompt to meet the morning dew,
The heart less bounding at emotion new,
And hope, once crush’d, less quick to spring again.
And long the way appears, which seem’d so short
To the less practised eye of sanguine youth;
And high the mountain-tops, in cloudy air,
The mountain-tops where is the throne of Truth,
Tops in life’s morning-sun so bright and bare!
Unbreachable the fort
Of the long-batter’d world uplifts its wall;
And strange and vain the earthly turmoil grows,
And near and real the charm of thy repose,
And night as welcome as a friend would fall.
But hush! the upland hath a sudden loss
Of quiet!Look, adown the dusk hill-side,
A troop of Oxford hunters going home,
As in old days, jovial and talking, ride!
From hunting with the Berkshire hounds they come.
Quick! let me fly, and cross
Into yon farther field!’Tis done; and see,
Back’d by the sunset, which doth glorify
The orange and pale violet evening-sky,
Bare on its lonely ridge, the Tree! the Tree!
I take the omen! Eve lets down her veil,
The white fog creeps from bush to bush about,
The west unflushes, the high stars grow bright,
And in the scatter’d farms the lights come out.
I cannot reach the signal-tree to-night,
Yet, happy omen, hail!
Hear it from thy broad lucent Arno-vale
(For there thine earth forgetting eyelids keep
The morningless and unawakening sleep
Under the flowery oleanders pale),
Hear it, O Thyrsis, still our tree is there!
Ah, vain! These English fields, this upland dim,
These brambles pale with mist engarlanded,
That lone, sky-pointing tree, are not for him;
To a boon southern country he is fled,
And now in happier air,
Wandering with the great Mother’s train divine
(And purer or more subtle soul than thee,
I trow, the mighty Mother doth not see)
Within a folding of the Apennine,
Thou hearest the immortal chants of old!
Putting his sickle to the perilous grain
In the hot cornfield of the Phrygian king,
For thee the Lityerses-song again
Young Daphnis with his silver voice doth sing;
Sings his Sicilian fold,
His sheep, his hapless love, his blinded eyes
And how a call celestial round him rang,
And heavenward from the fountain-brink he sprang,
And all the marvel of the golden skies.
There thou art gone, and me thou leavest here
Sole in these fields! yet will I not despair.
Despair I will not, while I yet descry
‘Neath the mild canopy of English air
That lonely tree against the western sky.
Still, still these slopes, ’tis clear,
Our Gipsy-Scholar haunts, outliving thee!
Fields where soft sheep from cages pull the hay,
Woods with anemonies in flower till May,
Know him a wanderer still; then why not me?
A fugitive and gracious light he seeks,
Shy to illumine; and I seek it too.
This does not come with houses or with gold,
With place, with honour, and a flattering crew;
‘Tis not in the world’s market bought and sold
But the smooth-slipping weeks
Drop by, and leave its seeker still untired;
Out of the heed of mortals he is gone,
He wends unfollow’d, he must house alone;
Yet on he fares, by his own heart inspired.
Thou too, O Thyrsis, on like quest wast bound;
Thou wanderedst with me for a little hour!
Men gave thee nothing; but this happy quest,
If men esteem’d thee feeble, gave thee power,
If men procured thee trouble, gave thee rest.
And this rude Cumner ground,
Its fir-topped Hurst, its farms, its quiet fields,
Here cams’t thou in thy jocund youthful time,
Here was thine height of strength, thy golden prime!
And still the haunt beloved a virtue yields.
What though the music of thy rustic flute
Kept not for long its happy, country tone;
Lost it too soon, and learnt a stormy note
Of men contention-tost, of men who groan,
Which task’d thy pipe too sore, and tired thy throat
It fail’d, and thou wage mute!
Yet hadst thou always visions of our light,
And long with men of care thou couldst not stay,
And soon thy foot resumed its wandering way,
Left human haunt, and on alone till night.
Too rare, too rare, grow now my visits here!
‘Mid city-noise, not, as with thee of yore,
Thyrsis! in reach of sheep-bells is my home.
Then through the great town’s harsh, heart-wearying roar,
Let in thy voice a whisper often come,
To chase fatigue and fear:
Why faintest thou! I wander’d till I died.
Roam on! The light we sought is shining still.
Dost thou ask proof? Our tree yet crowns the hill,
Our Scholar travels yet the loved hill-side.
The evening comes, the fields are still.
The tinkle of the thirsty rill,
Unheard all day, ascends again;
Deserted is the half-mown plain,
Silent the swaths! the ringing wain,
The mower’s cry, the dog’s alarms,
All housed within the sleeping farms!
The business of the day is done,
The last-left haymaker is gone.
And from the thyme upon the height,
And from the elder-blossom white
And pale dog-roses in the hedge,
And from the mint-plant in the sedge,
In puffs of balm the night-air blows
The perfume which the day forgoes.
And on the pure horizon far,
See, pulsing with the first-born star,
The liquid sky above the hill!
The evening comes, the fields are still.
“Henri Heine”— ‘t is here!
The black tombstone, the name
Carved there, — no more! and the smooth,
Swarded alleys, the limes
Touched with yellow by hot
Summer, but under them still
In September’s bright afternoon
Shadow and verdure and cool!
Trim Montmartre! the faint
Murmur of Paris outside;
Yellow and black, on the graves.
Half blind, palsied, in pain,
Hither to come, from the streets’
Uproar, surely not loath
Wast thou, Heine!— to lie
Quiet! to ask for closed
Shutters, and darkened room.
And cool drinks, and an eased
Posture, and opium, no more!
Hither to come, and to sleep
Under the wings of Renown.
Ah! not little, when pain
Is most quelling, and man
Easily quelled, and the fine
Temper of genius alive
Quickest to ill, is the praise
Not to have yielded to pain!
No small boast, for a weak
Sou of mankind, to the earth
Pinned by the thunder, to rear
His bolt-scathed front to the stars;
And, undaunted, retort
‘Gainst thick-crashing, insane,
Tyrannous tempests of bale.
Arrowy lightnings of soul!
Hark! through the alley resounds
Mocking laughter! A film
Creeps o’er the sunshine; a breeze
Ruffles the warm afternoon,
Saddens my soul with its chill.
Gibing of spirits in scorn
Shakes every leaf of the grove.
Mars the benignant repose
Of this amiable home of the dead.
Bitter spirits! ye claim
Heine? —Alas, he is yours!
Only a moment I longed
Here in the quiet to snatch
From such mates the outworn
Poet, and steep him in calm.
Only a moment! I knew
Whose he was who is here
Buried, I knew he was yours!
Ah, I knew that I saw
Here no sepulchre built
In the laurelled rock, o’er the blue
Naples bay, for a sweet
Tender Virgil! no tomb
On Ravenna sands, in the shade
Of Ravenna pines, for a high
Austere Dante! no grave
By the Avon side, in the bright
Stratford meadows, for thee,
Shakespeare! loveliest of souls,
Peerless in radiance, in joy.
Long fed on boundless hopes, O race of man,
How angrily thou spurn’st all simpler fare!
Christ, some one says, was human as we are;
No judge eyes us from heaven, our sin to scan;
We live no more, when we have done our span.
‘Well, then, for Christ,’ thou answerest, ‘who can care?
‘From sin, which heaven records not, why forbear
‘Live we like brutes our life without a plan!’
So answerest thou; but why not rather say
Hath man no second life?—Pitch this one high!
‘Sits there no judge in heaven, our sin to see?—
‘More strictly, then, the inward judge obey!
‘Was Christ a man like us?—Ah! let us try
‘If we then, too, can be such men as he!’
Go, for they call you, shepherd, from the hill;
Go, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes!
No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
Nor the cropp’d herbage shoot another head.
But when the fields are still,
And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch’d green,
Come, shepherd, and again begin the quest!
Here, where the reaper was at work of late—
In this high field’s dark corner, where he leaves
His coat, his basket, and his earthen cruse,
And in the sun all morning binds the sheaves,
Then here, at noon, comes back his stores to use—
Here will I sit and wait,
While to my ear from uplands far away
The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
With distant cries of reapers in the corn—
All the live murmur of a summer’s day.
Screen’d is this nook o’er the high, half-reap’d field,
And here till sun-down, shepherd! will I be.
Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see
Pale pink convolvulus in tendrils creep;
And air-swept lindens yield
Their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers
Of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid,
And bower me from the August sun with shade;
And the eye travels down to Oxford’s towers.
And near me on the grass lies Glanvil’s book—
Come, let me read the oft-read tale again!
The story of the Oxford scholar poor,
Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
Who, tired of knocking at preferment’s door,
One summer-morn forsook
His friends, and went to learn the gipsy-lore,
And roam’d the world with that wild brotherhood,
And came, as most men deem’d, to little good,
But came to Oxford and his friends no more.
But once, years after, in the country-lanes,
Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
Met him, and of his way of life enquired;
Whereat he answer’d, that the gipsy-crew,
His mates, had arts to rule as they desired
The workings of men’s brains,
And they can bind them to what thoughts they will.
“And I,” he said, “the secret of their art,
When fully learn’d, will to the world impart;
But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill.”
This said, he left them, and return’d no more.—
But rumours hung about the country-side,
That the lost Scholar long was seen to stray,
Seen by rare glimpses, pensive and tongue-tied,
In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey,
The same the gipsies wore.
Shepherds had met him on the Hurst in spring;
At some lone alehouse in the Berkshire moors,
On the warm ingle-bench, the smock-frock’d boors
Had found him seated at their entering,
But, ‘mid their drink and clatter, he would fly.
And I myself seem half to know thy looks,
And put the shepherds, wanderer! on thy trace;
And boys who in lone wheatfields scare the rooks
I ask if thou hast pass’d their quiet place;
Or in my boat I lie
Moor’d to the cool bank in the summer-heats,
‘Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills,
And watch the warm, green-muffled Cumner hills,
And wonder if thou haunt’st their shy retreats.
For most, I know, thou lov’st retired ground!
Thee at the ferry Oxford riders blithe,
Returning home on summer-nights, have met
Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,
Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet,
As the punt’s rope chops round;
And leaning backward in a pensive dream,
And fostering in thy lap a heap of flowers
Pluck’d in shy fields and distant Wychwood bowers,
And thine eyes resting on the moonlit stream.
And then they land, and thou art seen no more!—
Maidens, who from the distant hamlets come
To dance around the Fyfield elm in May,
Oft through the darkening fields have seen thee roam,
Or cross a stile into the public way.
Oft thou hast given them store
Of flowers—the frail-leaf’d, white anemony,
Dark bluebells drench’d with dews of summer eves,
And purple orchises with spotted leaves—
But none hath words she can report of thee.
And, above Godstow Bridge, when hay-time’s here
In June, and many a scythe in sunshine flames,
Men who through those wide fields of breezy grass
Where black-wing’d swallows haunt the glittering Thames,
To bathe in the abandon’d lasher pass,
Have often pass’d thee near
Sitting upon the river bank o’ergrown;
Mark’d thine outlandish garb, thy figure spare,
Thy dark vague eyes, and soft abstracted air—
But, when they came from bathing, thou wast gone!
At some lone homestead in the Cumner hills,
Where at her open door the housewife darns,
Thou hast been seen, or hanging on a gate
To watch the threshers in the mossy barns.
Children, who early range these slopes and late
For cresses from the rills,
Have known thee eyeing, all an April-day,
The springing pasture and the feeding kine;
And mark’d thee, when the stars come out and shine,
Through the long dewy grass move slow away.
In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood—
Where most the gipsies by the turf-edged way
Pitch their smoked tents, and every bush you see
With scarlet patches tagg’d and shreds of grey,
Above the forest-ground called Thessaly—
The blackbird, picking food,
Sees thee, nor stops his meal, nor fears at all;
So often has he known thee past him stray,
Rapt, twirling in thy hand a wither’d spray,
And waiting for the spark from heaven to fall.
And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
Have I not pass’d thee on the wooden bridge,
Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
Thy face tow’rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
And thou has climb’d the hill,
And gain’d the white brow of the Cumner range;
Turn’d once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
The line of festal light in Christ-Church hall—
Then sought thy straw in some sequester’d grange.
But what—I dream! Two hundred years are flown
Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,
And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe
That thou wert wander’d from the studious walls
To learn strange arts, and join a gipsy-tribe;
And thou from earth art gone
Long since, and in some quiet churchyard laid—
Some country-nook, where o’er thy unknown grave
Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave,
Under a dark, red-fruited yew-tree’s shade.
—No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!
For what wears out the life of mortal men?
‘Tis that from change to change their being rolls;
‘Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,
Exhaust the energy of strongest souls
And numb the elastic powers.
Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,
And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,
To the just-pausing Genius we remit
Our worn-out life, and are—what we have been.
Thou hast not lived, why should’st thou perish, so?
Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;
Else wert thou long since number’d with the dead!
Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire!
The generations of thy peers are fled,
And we ourselves shall go;
But thou possessest an immortal lot,
And we imagine thee exempt from age
And living as thou liv’st on Glanvil’s page,
Because thou hadst—what we, alas! have not.
For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,
Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.
O life unlike to ours!
Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,
Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives,
And each half lives a hundred different lives;
Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.
Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—
Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?
Yes, we await it!—but it still delays,
And then we suffer! and amongst us one,
Who most has suffer’d, takes dejectedly
His seat upon the intellectual throne;
And all his store of sad experience he
Lays bare of wretched days;
Tells us his misery’s birth and growth and signs,
And how the dying spark of hope was fed,
And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,
And all his hourly varied anodynes.
This for our wisest! and we others pine,
And wish the long unhappy dream would end,
And waive all claim to bliss, and try to bear;
With close-lipp’d patience for our only friend,
Sad patience, too near neighbour to despair—
But none has hope like thine!
Thou through the fields and through the woods dost stray,
Roaming the country-side, a truant boy,
Nursing thy project in unclouded joy,
And every doubt long blown by time away.
O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
Before this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o’ertax’d, its palsied hearts, was rife—
Fly hence, our contact fear!
Still fly, plunge deeper in the bowering wood!
Averse, as Dido did with gesture stern
From her false friend’s approach in Hades turn,
Wave us away, and keep thy solitude!
Still nursing the unconquerable hope,
Still clutching the inviolable shade,
With a free, onward impulse brushing through,
By night, the silver’d branches of the glade—
Far on the forest-skirts, where none pursue,
On some mild pastoral slope
Emerge, and resting on the moonlit pales
Freshen thy flowers as in former years
With dew, or listen with enchanted ears,
From the dark tingles, to the nightingales!
But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!
For strong the infection of our mental strife,
Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest;
And we should win thee from thy own fair life,
Like us distracted, and like us unblest.
Soon, soon thy cheer would die,
Thy hopes grow timorous, and unfix’d thy powers,
And thy clear aims be cross and shifting made;
And then thy glad perennial youth would fade,
Fade and grow old at last, and die like ours.
Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!
—As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
Lifting the cool-hair’d creepers stealthily,
The fringes of a southward-facing brow
Among the Ægæan Isles;
And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
Green, bursting figs, and tunnies steep’d in brine—
And knew the intruders on his ancient home,
The young light-hearted masters of the waves—
And snatch’d his rudder, and shook out more sail;
And day and night held on indignantly
O’er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
To where the Atlantic raves
Outside the western straits; and unbent sails
There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
And on the beach undid his corded bales.
To a Friend
Who prop, thou ask’st in these bad days, my mind?
He much, the old man, who, clearest-souled of men,
Saw The Wide Prospect, and the Asian Fen,
And Tmolus hill, and Smyrna bay, though blind.
Much he, whose friendship I not long since won,
That halting slave, who in Nicopolis
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian’s brutal son
Cleared Rome of what most shamed him. But be his
My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole;
The mellow glory of the Attic stage,
Singer of sweet Colonus, and its child.
A Nameless Epitaph
This sentence have I left behind:
An aching body, and a mind
Not wholly clear, nor wholly blind,
Too keen to rest, too weak to find,
That travails sore, and brings forth wind,
Are God’s worst portion to mankind.
Ask not my name, O friend!
That Being only, which hath known each man
From the beginning, can
Remember each unto the end
These are extraordinarily poems indeed! No, wonder he was characterized as a sage writer. He’s doubtlessly one of the noblest poets of all time who disciplines and educates the reader on concurrent social matters.
Of course, I wouldn’t miss reading my all-time favorite work in his poetry collection―To a Friend. I couldn’t help but be amazed by how well it was written by him.
What about you? What’s your most favorite poem of Matthew Arnold?
Do you still want to add another of his poem to this list? Let me know in the comment section below! 😉