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

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems


[First published 1852. Reprinted 1853, ’54, ’57.]

MIST clogs the sunshine,

Smoky dwarf houses

Hem me round everywhere.

A vague dejection

Weighs down my soul.

Yet, while I languish,

Everywhere, countless

Prospects unroll themselves,

And countless beings

Pass countless moods.

Far hence, in Asia,

On the smooth convent-roofs,

On the gold terraces

Of holy Lassa,

Bright shines the sun.

Grey time-worn marbles

Hold the pure Muses.

In their cool gallery,

By yellow Tiber,

They still look fair.

Strange unlov’d uproar

Shrills round their portal.

Yet not on Helicon

Kept they more cloudless

Their noble calm.

Through sun-proof alleys

In a lone, sand-hemm’d

City of Africa,

A blind, led beggar,

Age-bow’d, asks alms.

No bolder Robber

Erst abode ambush’d

Deep in the sandy waste:

No clearer eyesight

Spied prey afar.

Saharan sand-winds

Sear’d his keen eyeballs.

Spent is the spoil he won.

For him the present

Holds only pain.

Two young, fair lovers,

Where the warm June wind,

Fresh from the summer fields,

Plays fondly round them,

Stand, tranc’d in joy.

With sweet, join’d voices,

And with eyes brimming—

‘Ah,’ they cry, ‘Destiny!

Prolong the present!

Time! stand still here!’

The prompt stern Goddess

Shakes her head, frowning.

Time gives his hour-glass

Its due reversal.

Their hour is gone.

With weak indulgence

Did the just Goddess

Lengthen their happiness,

She lengthen’d also

Distress elsewhere.

The hour, whose happy

Unalloy’d moments

I would eternalize,

Ten thousand mourners

Well pleas’d see end.

The bleak stern hour,

Whose severe moments

I would annihilate,

Is pass’d by others

In warmth, light, joy.

Time, so complain’d of,

Who to no one man

Shows partiality,

Brings round to all men

Some undimm’d hours.