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

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems

Lines written by a Death-Bed

[First published 1852.]

YES, now the longing is o’erpast,

Which, dogg’d by fear and fought by shame,

Shook her weak bosom day and night,

Consum’d her beauty like a flame,

And dimm’d it like the desert blast.

And though the curtains hide her face,

Yet were it lifted to the light

The sweet expression of her brow

Would charm the gazer, till his thought

Eras’d the ravages of time,

Fill’d up the hollow cheek, and brought

A freshness back as of her prime—

So healing is her quiet now.

So perfectly the lines express

A placid, settled loveliness;

Her youngest rival’s freshest grace.

But ah, though peace indeed is here,

And ease from shame, and rest from fear;

Though nothing can dismarble now

The smoothness of that limpid brow;

Yet is a calm like this, in truth,

The crowning end of life and youth?

And when this boon rewards the dead,

Are all debts paid, has all been said?

And is the heart of youth so light,

Its step so firm, its eye so bright,

Because on its hot brow there blows

A wind of promise and repose

From the far grave, to which it goes?

Because it has the hope to come,

One day, to harbour in the tomb?

Ah no, the bliss youth dreams is one

For daylight, for the cheerful sun,

For feeling nerves and living breath—

Youth dreams a bliss on this side death.

It dreams a rest, if not more deep,

More grateful than this marble sleep.

It hears a voice within it tell—

‘Calm ’s not life’s crown, though calm is well.’

’Tis all perhaps which man acquires:

But ’tis not what our youth desires.