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

New Poems, 1867

A Wish

[First published 1867.]

I ASK not that my bed of death

From bands of greedy heirs be free;

For these besiege the latest breath

Of fortune’s favour’d 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, 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, that 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 accustom’d 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 undiscover’d mystery

Which one who feels death’s winnowing wings

Must needs 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 dews of morn

The wide aërial 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

Compos’d, refresh’d, ennobled, clear;

Then willing let my spirit go

To work or wait elsewhere or here!