Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909.Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems
Empedocles on Etna. Act II
On this charr’d, blacken’d, melancholy waste,
Crown’d by the awful peak, Etna’s great mouth,
Round which the sullen vapour rolls—alone!
Pausanias is far hence, and that is well,
For I must henceforth speak no more with man.
He has his lesson too, and that debt’s paid;
And the good, learned, friendly, quiet man,
May bravelier front his life, and in himself
Find henceforth energy and heart; but I,
The weary man, the banish’d citizen—
Whose banishment is not his greatest ill,
Whose weariness no energy can reach,
And for whose hurt courage is not the cure—
What should I do with life and living more?
And the world hath the day, and must break thee,
Not thou the world. With men thou canst not live,
Their thoughts, their ways, their wishes, are not thine;
And being lonely thou art miserable,
For something has impair’d thy spirit’s strength,
And dried its self-sufficing fount of joy.
Thou canst not live with men nor with thyself—
Oh sage! oh sage!—Take then the one way left;
And turn thee to the elements, thy friends,
Thy well-tried friends, thy willing ministers,
And say:—Ye servants, hear Empedocles,
Who asks this final service at your hands!
Before the sophist brood hath overlaid
The last spark of man’s consciousness with words—
Ere quite the being of man, ere quite the world
Be disarray’d of their divinity—
Before the soul lose all her solemn joys,
And awe be dead, and hope impossible,
And the soul’s deep eternal night come on,
Receive me, hide me, quench me, take me home!
In the court of Gods, in the city of men,
And in the lonely rock-strewn mountain glen,
In the still mountain air.
To Typho only, the rebel o’erthrown,
Through whose heart Etna drives her roots of stone,
To imbed them in the sea.
Wherefore do thy nostrils flash,
Through the dark night, suddenly,
Typho, such red jets of flame?—
Is thy tortur’d heart still proud?
Is thy fire-scath’d arm still rash?
Still alert thy stone-crush’d frame?
Doth thy fierce soul still deplore
The ancient rout by the Cilician hills,
And that curst treachery on the Mount of Gore?
Do thy bloodshot eyes still see
The fight that crown’d thy ills,
Thy last defeat in this Sicilian sea?
Hast thou sworn, in thy sad lair,
Where erst the strong sea-currents suck’d thee down,
Never to cease to writhe, and try to sleep,
Letting the sea-stream wander through thy hair?
That thy groans, like thunder deep,
Begin to roll, and almost drown
The sweet notes, whose lulling spell
Gods and the race of mortals love so well,
When through thy caves thou hearest music swell?
Spreading o’er the Thunderer’s face,
When the sound climbs near his seat,
The Olympian council sees;
As he lets his lax right hand,
Which the lightnings doth embrace,
Sink upon his mighty knees.
And the eagle, at the beck
Of the appeasing gracious harmony,
Droops all his sheeny, brown, deep-feather’d neck,
Nestling nearer to Jove’s feet;
While o’er his sovereign eye
The curtains of the blue films slowly meet,
And the white Olympus peaks
Rosily brighten, and the sooth’d Gods smile
At one another from their golden chairs,
And no one round the charmèd circle speaks.
Only the loved Hebe bears
The cup about, whose draughts beguile
Pain and care, with a dark store
Of fresh-pull’d violets wreath’d and nodding o’er;
And her flush’d feet glow on the marble floor.
The brave impetuous heart yields everywhere
To the subtle, contriving head;
Great qualities are trodden down,
And littleness united
Is become invincible.
These angry smoke-bursts
Are not the passionate breath
Of the mountain-crush’d, tortur’d, intractable Titan king!
But over all the world
What suffering is there not seen
Of plainness oppress’d by cunning,
As the well-counsell’d Zeus oppress’d
The self-helping son of earth!
What anguish of greatness
Rail’d and hunted from the world,
Because its simplicity rebukes
This envious, miserable age!
I am weary of it!—
Lie there, ye ensigns
Of my unloved pre-eminence
In an age like this!
Among a people of children,
Who throng’d me in their cities,
Who worshipp’d me in their houses,
And ask’d, not wisdom,
But drugs to charm with,
But spells to mutter—
All the fool’s-armoury of magic!—Lie there,
My golden circlet!
My purple robe!
And makes the mass’d clouds roll,
The music of the lyre blows away
The clouds that wrap the soul.
That triumph of the sweet persuasive lyre!
That famous, final victory
When jealous Pan with Marsyas did conspire!
Young Apollo, all the pride
Of the Phrygian flutes to tame,
To the Phrygian highlands came!
Where the long green reed-beds sway
In the rippled waters grey
Of that solitary lake
Where Maeander’s springs are born;
Where the ridg’d pine-wooded roots
Of Messogis westward break
Mounting westward, high and higher.
There was held the famous strife;
There the Phrygian brought his flutes,
And Apollo brought his lyre;
And, when now the westering sun
Touch’d the hills, the strife was done,
And the attentive Muses said:
‘Marsyas! thou art vanquishèd.’
Then Apollo’s minister
Hang’d upon a branching fir
Marsyas, that unhappy Faun,
And began to whet his knife.
But the Maenads, who were there,
Left their friend, and with robes flowing
In the wind, and loose dark hair
O’er their polish’d bosoms blowing,
Each her ribbon’d tambourine
Flinging on the mountain sod,
With a lovely frighten’d mien
Came about the youthful God.
But he turn’d his beauteous face
Haughtily another way,
From the grassy sun-warm’d place,
Where in proud repose he lay,
With one arm over his head,
Watching how the whetting sped.
Did the young Olympus stand,
Weeping at his master’s end;
For the Faun had been his friend.
For he taught him how to sing,
And he taught him flute-playing.
Many a morning had they gone
To the glimmering mountain lakes,
And had torn up by the roots
The tall crested water-reeds
With long plumes, and soft brown seeds,
And had carved them into flutes,
Sitting on a tabled stone
Where the shoreward ripple breaks.
And he taught him how to please
The red-snooded Phrygian girls,
Whom the summer evening sees
Flashing in the dance’s whirls
Underneath the starlit trees
In the mountain villages.
Therefore now Olympus stands,
At his master’s piteous cries
Pressing fast with both his hands
His white garment to his eyes,
Not to see Apollo’s scorn;
Ah, poor Faun, poor Faun! ah, poor Faun!
My laurel bough!
Scornful Apollo’s ensign, lie thou there!
Though thou hast been my shade in the world’s heat—
Though I have loved thee, lived in honouring thee—
Yet lie thou there,
My laurel bough!
I am weary of the solitude
Where he who bears thee must abide!
Of the rocks of Parnassus,
Of the gorge of Delphi,
Of the moonlit peaks, and the caves.
Thou guardest them, Apollo!
Over the grave of the slain Pytho,
Though young, intolerably severe;
Thou keepest aloof the profane,
But the solitude oppresses thy votary!
The jars of men reach him not in thy valley—
But can life reach him?
Thou fencest him from the multitude—
Who will fence him from himself?
He hears nothing but the cry of the torrents
And the beating of his own heart.
The air is thin, the veins swell—
The temples tighten and throb there—
I have been enough alone!
But they will gladly welcome him once more,
And help him to unbend his too tense thought,
And rid him of the presence of himself,
And keep their friendly chatter at his ear,
And haunt him, till the absence from himself,
That other torment, grow unbearable;
And he will fly to solitude again,
And he will find its air too keen for him,
And so change back; and many thousand times
Be miserably bandied to and fro
Like a sea-wave, betwixt the world and thee,
Thou young, implacable God! and only death
Shall cut his oscillations short, and so
Bring him to poise. There is no other way.
When we were young, when we could number friends
In all the Italian cities like ourselves,
When with elated hearts we join’d your train,
Ye Sun-born Virgins! on the road of truth.
Then we could still enjoy, then neither thought
Nor outward things were clos’d and dead to us,
But we receiv’d the shock of mighty thoughts
On simple minds with a pure natural joy;
And if the sacred load oppress’d our brain,
We had the power to feel the pressure eased,
The brow unbound, the thoughts flow free again,
In the delightful commerce of the world.
We had not lost our balance then, nor grown
Thought’s slaves, and dead to every natural joy!
The smallest thing could give us pleasure then!
The sports of the country people,
A flute-note from the woods
Sunset over the sea;
Seed-time and harvest,
The reapers in the corn,
The vinedresser in his vineyard,
The village-girl at her wheel!
Are for the happy, for the souls at ease,
Who dwell on a firm basis of content!—
But he, who has outliv’d his prosperous days,
But he, whose youth fell on a different world
From that on which his exiled age is thrown,
Whose mind was fed on other food, was train’d
By other rules than are in vogue to-day,
Whose habit of thought is fix’d, who will not change,
But in a world he loves not must subsist
In ceaseless opposition, be the guard
Of his own breast, fetter’d to what he guards,
That the world win no mastery over him;
Who has no friend, no fellow left, not one;
Who has no minute’s breathing space allow’d
To nurse his dwindling faculty of joy—
Joy and the outward world must die to him,
As they are dead to me!
Who slowly begin to marshal,
As of old, in the fields of heaven,
Your distant, melancholy lines!
Have you, too, survived yourselves?
Are you, too, what I fear to become?
You, too, once lived!
You too moved joyfully
Among august companions
In an older world, peopled by Gods,
In a mightier order,
The radiant, rejoicing, intelligent Sons of Heaven!
But now, you kindle
Your lonely, cold-shining lights,
In the heavenly wilderness,
For a younger, ignoble world;
And renew, by necessity,
Night after night your courses,
In echoing unnear’d silence,
Above a race you know not.
Uncaring and undelighted,
Without friend and without home;
Weary like us, though not
Weary with our weariness.
No languor, no decay! Languor and death,
They are with me, not you! ye are alive!
Ye and the pure dark ether where ye ride
Brilliant above me! And thou, fiery world,
That sapp’st the vitals of this terrible mount
Upon whose charr’d and quaking crust I stand,
Thou, too, brimmest with life!—the sea of cloud
That heaves its white and billowy vapours up
To moat this isle of ashes from the world,
Lives!—and that other fainter sea, far down,
O’er whose lit floor a road of moonbeams leads
To Etna’s Liparëan sister-fires
And the long dusky line of Italy—
That mild and luminous floor of waters lives,
With held-in joy swelling its heart!—I only,
Whose spring of hope is dried, whose spirit has fail’d—
I, who have not, like these, in solitude
Maintain’d courage and force, and in myself
Nursed an immortal vigour—I alone
Am dead to life and joy; therefore I read
In all things my own deadness.
Oh that my heart bounded with the swell of the sea!
Oh that my soul were full of lights as the stars!
Oh that it brooded over the world like the air!
A living man no more, Empedocles!
Nothing but a devouring flame of thought—
But a naked, eternally restless mind!
Everything will return.
Our bodies to earth,
Our blood to water,
Heat to fire,
Breath to air.
They were well born, they will be well entomb’d!
Down in our mother earth’s miraculous womb!
Well might it be
With what roll’d of us in the stormy main!
We might have joy, blent with the all-bathing air,
Or with the nimble radiant life of fire!
If these have been the master part of us—
Where will they find their parent element?
What will receive them, who will call them home?
But we shall still be in them, and they in us,
And we shall be the strangers of the world,
And they will be our lords, as they are now;
And keep us prisoners of our consciousness,
And never let us clasp and feel the All
But through their forms, and modes, and stifling veils.
And we shall be unsatisfied as now,
And we shall feel the agony of thirst,
The ineffable longing for the life of life
Baffled for ever: and still thought and mind
Will hurry us with them on their homeless march,
Over the unallied unopening earth,
Over the unrecognizing sea; while air
Will blow us fiercely back to sea and earth,
And fire repel us from its living waves.
And then we shall unwillingly return
Back to this meadow of calamity,
This uncongenial place, this human life;
And in our individual human state
Go through the sad probation all again,
To see if we will poise our life at last,
To see if we will now at last be true
To our own only true, deep-buried selves,
Being one with which we are one with the whole world;
Or whether we will once more fall away
Into some bondage of the flesh or mind,
Some slough of sense, or some fantastic maze
Forg’d by the imperious lonely thinking-power.
And each succeeding age in which we are born
Will have more peril for us than the last;
Will goad our senses with a sharper spur,
Will fret our minds to an intenser play,
Will make ourselves harder to be discern’d.
And we shall struggle awhile, gasp and rebel;
And we shall fly for refuge to past times,
Their soul of unworn youth, their breath of greatness;
And the reality will pluck us back,
Knead us in its hot hand, and change our nature.
And we shall feel our powers of effort flag,
And rally them for one last fight, and fail;
And we shall sink in the impossible strife,
And be astray for ever.
Slave of sense
I have in no wise been; but slave of thought?—
And who can say:—I have been always free,
Lived ever in the light of my own soul?—
I cannot! I have lived in wrath and gloom,
Fierce, disputations, ever at war with man,
Far from my own soul, far from warmth and light.
But I have not grown easy in these bonds—
But I have not denied what bonds these were!
Yea, I take myself to witness,
That I have loved no darkness,
Sophisticated no truth,
Nursed no delusion,
Allow’d no fear!
Ye know it too—it hath been granted me
Not to die wholly, not to be all enslav’d.
I feel it in this hour! The numbing cloud
Mounts off my soul; I feel it, I breathe free!
Ah! boil up, ye vapours!
Leap and roar, thou sea of fire!
My soul glows to meet you.
Ere it flag, ere the mists
Of despondency and gloom
Rush over it again,
Receive me! Save me![He plunges into the crater.
Thick breaks the red flame;
All Etna heaves fiercely
Her forest-cloth’d frame.
Are haunts meet for thee.
But, where Helicon breaks down
In cliff to the sea,
Send far their light voice
Up the still vale of Thisbe,
O speed, and rejoice!
Lie strewn the white flocks;
On the cliff-side the pigeons
Roost deep in the rocks.
Soft lull’d by the rills,
Lie wrapt in their blankets,
Asleep on the hills.
So white through the gloom?
What garments out-glistening
The gold-flower’d broom?
Out-perfumes the thyme?
What voices enrapture
The night’s balmy prime?—
His choir, the Nine.
—The leader is fairest,
But all are divine.
They stream up again!
What seeks on this mountain
The glorified train?—
In the spring by their road;
Then on to Olympus,
Their endless abode!
Of what is it told?—
What will be for ever;
What was from of old.
Of all things; and then
The rest of immortals,
The action of men.
The strife with the palm;
The night in her silence,
The stars in their calm.