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

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems

Human Life

[First published 1852. Reprinted 1867.]

WHAT mortal, when he saw,

Life’s voyage done, his heavenly Friend,

Could ever yet dare tell him fearlessly:

‘I have kept uninfring’d my nature’s law;

The inly-written chart thou gavest me

To guide me, I have steer’d by to the end’?

Ah! let us make no claim

On life’s incognizable sea

To too exact a steering of our way!

Let us not fret and fear to miss our aim

If some fair coast has lured us to make stay,

Or some friend hail’d us to keep company!

Aye, we would each fain drive

At random, and not steer by rule!

Weakness! and worse, weakness bestow’d in vain!

Winds from our side the unsuiting consort rive,

We rush by coasts where we had lief remain;

Man cannot, though he would, live chance’s fool.

No! as the foaming swathe

Of torn-up water, on the main,

Falls heavily away with long-drawn roar

On either side the black deep-furrow’d path

Cut by an onward-labouring vessel’s prore,

And never touches the ship-side again;

Even so we leave behind,

As, charter’d by some unknown Powers,

We stem across the sea of life by night,

The joys which were not for our use design’d,

The friends to whom we had no natural right,

The homes that were not destined to be ours.