Home  »  The Poems of Matthew Arnold  »  Memorial Verses

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

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems

Memorial Verses

APRIL, 1850

[First published in Fraser’s Magazine, June, 1850. Reprinted 1852, ’55.]

GOETHE in Weimar sleeps, and Greece,

Long since, saw Byron’s struggle cease.

But one such death remain’d to come.

The last poetic voice is dumb.

What shall be said o’er Wordsworth’s tomb?

When Byron’s eyes were shut in death,

We bow’d our head and held our breath.

He taught us little: but our soul

Had felt him like the thunder’s roll.

With shivering heart the strife we saw

Of Passion with Eternal Law;

And yet with reverential awe

We watch’d the fount of fiery life

Which serv’d for that Titanic strife.

When Goethe’s death was told, we said—

Sunk, then, is Europe’s sagest head.

Physician of the Iron Age,

Goethe has done his pilgrimage.

He took the suffering human race,

He read each wound, each weakness clear—

And struck his finger on the place

And said—Thou ailest here, and here.

He look’d on Europe’s dying hour

Of fitful dream and feverish power;

His eye plung’d down the weltering strife,

The turmoil of expiring life;

He said—The end is everywhere:

Art still has truth, take refuge there.

And he was happy, if to know

Causes of things, and far below

His feet to see the lurid flow

Of terror, and insane distress,

And headlong fate, be happiness.

And Wordsworth!—Ah, pale Ghosts, rejoice!

For never has such soothing voice

Been to your shadowy world convey’d,

Since erst, at morn, some wandering shade

Heard the clear song of Orpheus come

Through Hades, and the mournful gloom.

Wordsworth has gone from us—and ye,

Ah, may ye feel his voice as we.

He too upon a wintry clime

Had fallen—on this iron time

Of doubts, disputes, distractions, fears.

He found us when the age had bound

Our souls in its benumbing round;

He spoke, and loos’d our heart in tears.

He laid us as we lay at birth

On the cool flowery lap of earth;

Smiles broke from us and we had ease.

The hills were round us, and the breeze

Went o’er the sun-lit fields again:

Our foreheads felt the wind and rain.

Our youth return’d: for there was shed

On spirits that had long been dead,

Spirits dried up and closely-furl’d,

The freshness of the early world.

Ah, since dark days still bring to light

Man’s prudence and man’s fiery might,

Time may restore us in his course

Goethe’s sage mind and Byron’s force:

But where will Europe’s latter hour

Again find Wordsworth’s healing power?

Others will teach us how to dare,

And against fear our breast to steel:

Others will strengthen us to bear—

But who, ah who, will make us feel?

The cloud of mortal destiny,

Others will front it fearlessly—

But who, like him, will put it by?

Keep fresh the grass upon his grave,

O Rotha! with thy living wave.

Sing him thy best! for few or none

Hears thy voice right, now he is gone.