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Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909.

Poems from Magazines, 1860–1866

A Southern Night

[First published in The Victoria Regia, 1861. Reprinted 1867.]

THE SANDY spits, the shore-lock’d lakes,

Melt into open, moonlit sea;

The soft Mediterranean breaks

At my feet, free.

Dotting the fields of corn and vine

Like ghosts, the huge, gnarl’d olives stand;

Behind, that lovely mountain-line!

While by the strand

Cette, with its glistening houses white,

Curves with the curving beach away

To where the lighthouse beacons bright

Far in the bay.

Ah, such a night, so soft, so lone,

So moonlit, saw me once of yore

Wander unquiet, and my own

Vext heart deplore!

But now that trouble is forgot;

Thy memory, thy pain, to-night,

My brother! and thine early lot,

Possess me quite.

The murmur of this Midland deep

Is heard to-night around thy grave

There where Gibraltar’s cannon’d steep

O’erfrowns the wave.

For there, with bodily anguish keen,

With Indian heats at last fordone,

With public toil and private teen,

Thou sank’st, alone.

Slow to a stop, at morning grey,

I see the smoke-crown’d vessel come;

Slow round her paddles dies away

The seething foam.

A boat is lower’d from her side;

Ah, gently place him on the bench!

That spirit—if all have not yet died—

A breath might quench.

Is this the eye, the footstep fast,

The mien of youth we used to see,

Poor, gallant boy!—for such thou wast,

Still art, to me.

The limbs their wonted tasks refuse,

The eyes are glazed, thou canst not speak;

And whiter than thy white burnous

That wasted check!

Enough! The boat, with quiet shock,

Unto its haven coming nigh,

Touches, and on Gibraltar’s rock

Lands thee, to die.

Ah me! Gibraltar’s strand is far,

But farther yet across the brine

Thy dear wife’s ashes buried are,

Remote from thine.

For there where Morning’s sacred fount

Its golden rain on earth confers,

The snowy Himalayan Mount

O’ershadows hers.

Strange irony of Fate, alas,

Which for two jaded English saves,

When from their dusty life they pass,

Such peaceful graves!

In cities should we English lie,

Where cries are rising ever new,

And men’s incessant stream goes by;

We who pursue

Our business with unslackening stride,

Traverse in troops, with care-fill’d breast,

The soft Mediterranean side,

The Nile, the East,

And see all sights from pole to pole,

And glance, and nod, and bustle by;

And never once possess our soul

Before we die.

Not by those hoary Indian hills,

Not by this gracious Midland sea

Whose floor to-night sweet moonshine fills,

Should our graves be!

Some sage, to whom the world was dead,

And men were specks, and life a play;

Who made the roots of trees his bed,

And once a day

With staff and gourd his way did bend

To villages and homes of man,

For food to keep him till he end

His mortal span,

And the pure goal of Being reach;

Grey-headed, wrinkled, clad in white,

Without companion, without speech,

By day and night

Pondering God’s mysteries untold,

And tranquil as the glacier snows—

He by those Indian mountains old

Might well repose!

Some grey crusading knight austere

Who bore Saint Louis company

And came home hurt to death and here

Landed to die;

Some youthful troubadour whose tongue

Fill’d Europe once with his love-pain,

Who here outwearied sunk, and sung

His dying strain;

Some girl who here from castle-bower,

With furtive step and cheek of flame,

’Twixt myrtle-hedges all in flower

By moonlight came

To meet her pirate-lover’s ship,

And from the wave-kiss’d marble stair

Beckon’d him on, with quivering lip

And unbound hair,

And lived some moons in happy trance,

Then learnt his death, and pined away—

Such by these waters of romance

’Twas meet to lay!

But you—a grave for knight or sage,

Romantic, solitary, still,

O spent ones of a work-day age!

Befits you ill.

So sang I; but the midnight breeze

Down to the brimm’d moon-charmed main

Comes softly through the olive-trees,

And checks my strain.

I think of her, whose gentle tongue

All plaint in her own cause controll’d;

Of thee I think, my brother! young

In heart, high-soul’d;

That comely face, that cluster’d brow,

That cordial hand, that bearing free,

I see them still, I see them now,

Shall always see!

And what but gentleness untired,

And what but noble feeling warm,

Wherever shown, howe’er attired,

Is grace, is charm?

What else is all these waters are,

What else is steep’d in lucid sheen,

What else is bright, what else is fair,

What else serene?

Mild o’er her grave, ye mountains, shine!

Gently by his, ye waters, glide!

To that in you which is divine

They were allied.