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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.]

WE cannot kindle when we will

The fire that in the heart resides,

The spirit bloweth and is still,

In mystery our soul abides:

But tasks in hours of insight will’d

Can be through hours of gloom fulfill’d.

With aching hands and bleeding feet

We dig and heap, lay stone on stone;

We bear the burden and the heat

Of the long day, and wish ’twere done.

Not till the hours of light return

All we have built do we discern.

Then, when the clouds are off the soul,

When thou dost bask in Nature’s eye,

Ask, how she view’d thy self-control,

Thy struggling task’d morality.

Nature, whose free, light, cheerful air,

Oft made thee, in thy gloom, despair.

And she, whose censure thou dost dread,

Whose eye thou wert afraid to seek,

See, on her face a glow is spread,

A strong emotion on her cheek.

‘Ah child,’ she cries, ‘that strife divine—

Whence was it, for it is not mine?

‘There is no effort on my brow—

I do not strive, I do not weep.

I rush with the swift spheres, and glow

In joy, and, when I will, I sleep.—

Yet that severe, that earnest air,

I saw, I felt it once—but where?

‘I knew not yet the gauge of Time,

Nor wore the manacles of Space.

I felt it in some other clime—

I saw it in some other place.

—’Twas when the heavenly house I trod.

And lay upon the breast of God.’