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

New Poems, 1867

Bacchanalia; Or, The New Age

[First published 1867.]

THE EVENING comes, the field is still.

The tinkle of the thirsty rill,

Unheard all day, ascends again;

Deserted is the new-reap’d grain,

Silent the sheaves! the ringing wain,

The reaper’s cry, the dogs’ alarms,

All housed within the sleeping farms!

The business of the day is done,

The last belated gleaner 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 field is still.

Loitering and leaping,

With saunter, with bounds—

Flickering and circling

In files and in rounds—

Gaily their pine-staff green

Tossing in air,

Loose o’er their shoulders white

Showering their hair—

See! the wild Maenads

Break from the wood,

Youth and Iacchus

Maddening their blood!

See! through the quiet corn

Rioting they pass—

Fling the piled sheaves about,

Trample the grass!

Tear from the rifled hedge

Garlands, their prize;

Fill with their sports the field,

Fill with their cries!

Shepherd, what ails thee, then?

Shepherd, why mute?

Forth with thy joyous song!

Forth with thy flute!

Tempts not the revel blithe?

Lure not their cries?

Glow not their shoulders smooth?

Melt not their eyes?

Is not, on cheeks like those,

Lovely the flush?—

Ah, so the quiet was!

So was the hush!

The epoch ends, the world is still.

The age has talk’d and work’d its fill—

The famous orators have done,

The famous poets sung and gone,

The famous men of war have fought,

The famous speculators thought,

The famous players, sculptors, wrought,

The famous painters fill’d their wall,

The famous critics judged it all.

The combatants are parted now,

Uphung the spear, unbent the bow,

The puissant crown’d, the weak low!

And in the after-silence sweet,

Now strife is hush’d, our ears doth meet,

Ascending pure, the bell-like fame

Of this or that down-trodden name

Delicate spirits, push’d away

In the hot press of the noon-day.

And o’er the plain, where the dead age

Did its now silent warfare wage—

O’er that wide plain, now wrapt in gloom,

Where many a splendour finds its tomb,

Many spent fames and fallen mights—

The one or two immortal lights

Rise slowly up into the sky

To shine there everlastingly,

Like stars over the bounding hill.

The epoch ends, the world is still.

Thundering and bursting

In torrents, in waves—

Carolling and shouting

Over tombs, amid graves—

See! on the cumber’d plain

Clearing a stage,

Scattering the past about,

Comes the new age!

Bards make new poems,

Thinkers new schools,

Statesmen new systems,

Critics new rules!

All things begin again;

Life is their prize;

Earth with their deeds they fill,

Fill with their cries!

Poet, what ails thee, then?

Say, why so mute?

Forth with thy praising voice!

Forth with thy flute!

Loiterer! why sittest thou

Sunk in thy dream?

Tempts not the bright new age?

Shines not its stream?

Look, ah, what genius,

Art, science, wit!

Soldiers like Caesar,

Statesmen like Pitt!

Sculptors like Phidias,

Raphaels in shoals,

Poets like Shakespeare—

Beautiful souls!

See, on their glowing cheeks

Heavenly the flush!

Ah, so the silence was!

So was the hush!

The world but feels the present’s spell,

The poet feels the past as well;

Whatever men have done, might do,

Whatever thought, might think it too.