Home  »  The Poems of Matthew Arnold  »  Obermann once more

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

New Poems, 1867

Obermann once more

[First published 1867.]

  • Savez-vous quelque bien qui console du regret d’un monde?

  • GLION?——Ah, twenty years, it cuts

    All meaning from a name!

    White houses prank where once were huts!

    Glion! but not the same,

    And yet I know not. All unchanged

    The turf, the pines, the sky!

    The hills in their old order ranged!

    The lake, with Chillon by!

    And ’neath those chestnut-trees, where stiff

    And stony mounts the way,

    Their crackling husk-heaps burn, as if

    I left them yesterday.

    Across the valley, on that slope.

    The huts of Avant shine—

    Its pines under their branches ope

    Ways for the tinkling kine.

    Full-foaming milk-pails, Alpine fare,

    Sweet heaps of fresh-cut grass,

    Invite to rest the traveller there

    Before he climb the pass—

    The gentian-flower’d pass, its crown

    With yellow spires aflame,

    Whence drops the path to Alliere down

    And walls where Byron came,

    By their green river who doth change

    His birth-name just below—

    Orchard, and croft, and full-stored grange

    Nursed by his pastoral flow.

    But stop!—to fetch back thoughts that stray

    Beyond this gracious bound,

    The cone of Jaman, pale and grey,

    See, in the blue profound!

    Ah, Jaman! delicately tall

    Above his sun-warm’d firs—

    What thoughts to me his rocks recall!

    What memories he stirs!

    And who but thou must be, in truth,

    Obermann! with me here?

    Thou master of my wandering youth,

    But left this many a year!

    Yes, I forget the world’s work wrought,

    Its warfare waged with pain!

    An eremite with thee, in thought

    Once more I slip my chain

    And to thy mountain-chalet come

    And lie beside its door

    And hear the wild bee’s Alpine hum

    And thy sad, tranquil lore.

    Again I feel its words inspire

    Their mournful calm—serene,

    Yet tinged with infinite desire

    For all that might have been,

    The harmony from which man swerved

    Made his life’s rule once more!

    The universal order served!

    Earth happier than before!

    While thus I mused, night gently ran

    Down over hill and wood.

    Then, still and sudden, Obermann

    On the grass near me stood.

    Those pensive features well I knew,

    On my mind, years before,

    Imaged so oft, imaged so true!

    A shepherd’s garb he wore,

    A mountain-flower was in his hand,

    A book was in his breast;

    Bent on my face, with gaze that scann’d

    My soul, his eyes did rest.

    ‘And is it thou,’ he cried, ‘so long

    Held by the world which we

    Loved not, who turnest from the throng

    Back to thy youth and me?

    ‘And from thy world, with heart opprest,

    Choosest thou now to turn?—

    Ah me, we anchorites knew it best!

    Best can its course discern!

    ‘Thou fledd’st me when the ungenial earth,

    Thou soughtest, lay in gloom.

    Return’st thou in her hour of birth,

    Of hopes and hearts in bloom?

    ‘Wellnigh two thousand years have brought

    Their load, and gone away,

    Since last on earth there lived and wrought

    A world like ours to-day.

    ‘Like ours it look’d in outward air!

    Its head was clear and true,

    Sumptuous its clothing, rich its fare,

    No pause its action knew;

    ‘Stout was its arm, each pulse and bone

    Seem’d puissant and alive—

    But, ah, its heart, its heart was stone,

    And so it could not thrive!

    ‘On that hard Pagan world disgust

    And secret loathing fell.

    Deep weariness and sated lust

    Made human life a hell.

    ‘In his cool hall, with haggard eyes,

    The Roman noble lay;

    He drove abroad, in furious guise.

    Along the Appian way;

    ‘He made a feast, drank fierce and fast,

    And crown’d his hair with flowers—

    No easier nor no quicker pass’d

    The impracticable hours.

    ‘The brooding East with awe beheld

    Her impious younger world;

    The Roman tempest swell’d and swell’d,

    And on her head was hurl’d.

    ‘The East bow’d low before the blast,

    In patient, deep disdain.

    She let the legions thunder past.

    And plunged in thought again.

    ‘So well she mused, a morning broke

    Across her spirit grey.

    A conquering, new-born joy awoke,

    And fill’d her life with day.

    ‘“Poor world,” she cried, “so deep accurst!

    That runn’st from pole to pole

    To seek a draught to slake thy thirst—

    Go, seek it in thy soul!”

    ‘She heard it, the victorious West!

    In crown and sword array’d.

    She felt the void which mined her breast,

    She shiver’d and obey’d.

    ‘She veil’d her eagles, snapp’d her sword,

    And laid her sceptre down;

    Her stately purple she abhorr’d,

    And her imperial crown;

    ‘She broke her flutes, she stopp’d her sports,

    Her artists could not please;

    She tore her books, she shut her courts,

    She fled her palaces;

    ‘Lust of the eye and pride of life

    She left it all behind,

    And hurried, torn with inward strife,

    The wilderness to find.

    ‘Tears wash’d the trouble from her face!

    She changed into a child.

    ’Mid weeds and wrecks she stood—a place

    Of ruin—but she smiled!

    ‘Oh, had I lived in that great day,

    How had its glory new

    Fill’d earth and heaven, and caught away

    My ravish’d spirit too!

    ‘No cloister-floor of humid stone

    Had been too cold for me;

    For me no Eastern desert lone

    Had been too far to flee.

    ‘No thoughts that to the world belong

    Had stood against the wave

    Of love which set so deep and strong

    From Christ’s then open grave.

    ‘No lonely life had pass’d too slow

    When I could hourly see

    That wan, nail’d Form, with head droop’d low,

    Upon the bitter tree;

    ‘Could see the Mother with the Child

    Whose tender winning arts

    Have to his little arms beguiled

    So many wounded hearts!

    ‘And centuries came, and ran their course,

    And unspent all that time

    Still, still went forth that Child’s dear force,

    And still was at its prime.

    ‘Ay, ages long endured his span

    Of life, ’tis true received,

    That gracious Child, that thorn-crown’d Man!

    He lived while we believed.

    ‘While we believed, on earth he went,

    And open stood his grave.

    Men call’d from chamber, church, and tent,

    And Christ was by to save.

    ‘Now he is dead. Far hence he lies

    In the lorn Syrian town,

    And on his grave, with shining eyes,

    The Syrian stars look down.

    ‘In vain men still, with hoping new,

    Regard his death-place dumb,

    And say the stone is not yet to,

    And wait for words to come.

    ‘Ah, from that silent sacred land,

    Of sun, and arid stone,

    And crumbling wall, and sultry sand,

    Comes now one word alone!

    ‘From David’s lips this word did roll,

    ’Tis true and living yet:

    No man can save his brother’s soul,

    Nor pay his brother’s debt.

    ‘Alone, self-poised, henceforward man

    Must labour; must resign

    His all too human creeds, and scan

    Simply the way divine.

    ‘But slow that tide of common thought,

    Which bathed our life, retired.

    Slow, slow the old world wore to naught,

    And pulse by pulse expired.

    ‘Its frame yet stood without a breach

    When blood and warmth were fled;

    And still it spake its wonted speech—

    But every word was dead.

    ‘And oh, we cried, that on this corse

    Might fall a freshening storm!

    Rive its dry bones, and with new force

    A new-sprung world inform!

    ‘Down came the storm! In ruin fell

    The outworn world we knew.

    It pass’d, that elemental swell!

    Again appear’d the blue.

    ‘The sun shone in the new-wash’d sky—

    And what from heaven saw he?

    Blocks of the past, like icebergs high,

    Float in a rolling sea.

    ‘Upon them ply the race of man

    All they before endeavour’d;

    They come and go, they work and plan,

    And know not they are sever’d.

    ‘Poor fragments of a broken world

    Whereon we pitch our tent!

    Why were ye too to death not hurl’d

    When your world’s day was spent?

    ‘The glow of central fire is done

    Which with its fusing flame

    Knit all your parts, and kept you one;—

    But ye, ye are the same!

    ‘The past, its mask of union on,

    Had ceased to live and thrive.

    The past, its mask of union gone,

    Say, is it more alive?

    ‘Your creeds are dead, your rites are dead,

    Your social order too.

    Where tarries he, the power who said:

    See, I make all things new?

    ‘The millions suffer still, and grieve;

    And what can helpers heal

    With old-world cures men half believe

    For woes they wholly feel?

    ‘And yet they have such need of joy!

    And joy whose grounds are true!

    And joy that should all hearts employ

    As when the past was new!

    ‘Ah, not the emotion of that past,

    Its common hope, were vain!

    A new such hope must dawn at last,

    Or man must toss in pain.

    ‘But now the past is out of date,

    The future not yet born—

    And who can be alone elate,

    While the world lies forlorn?

    ‘Then to the wilderness I fled.

    There among Alpine snows

    And pastoral huts I hid my head,

    And sought and found repose.

    ‘It was not yet the appointed hour.

    Sad, patient, and resign’d,

    I watch’d the crocus fade and flower,

    I felt the sun and wind.

    ‘The day I lived in was not mine—

    Man gets no second day.

    In dreams I saw the future shine,

    But ah, I could not stay!

    ‘Action I had not, followers, fame.

    I pass’d obscure, alone.

    The after-world forgets my name,

    Nor do I wish it known.

    ‘Gloom-wrapt within, I lived and died,

    And knew my life was vain.

    With fate I murmur not, nor chide;

    At Sèvres by the Seine

    ‘(If Paris that brief flight allow)

    My humble tomb explore;

    It bears: Eternity, be thou

    My refuge! and no more.

    ‘But thou, whom fellowship of mood

    Did make from haunts of strife

    Come to my mountain solitude

    And learn my frustrate life;

    ‘O thou, who, ere thy flying span

    Was past of cheerful youth,

    Didst seek the solitary man

    And love his cheerless truth—

    ‘Despair not thou as I despair’d,

    Nor be cold gloom thy prison!

    Forward the gracious hours have fared,

    And see! the sun is risen.

    ‘He melts the icebergs of the past,

    A green, new earth appears.

    Millions, whose life in ice lay fast,

    Have thoughts, and smiles, and tears.

    ‘The world’s great order dawns in sheen

    After long darkness rude,

    Divinelier imaged, clearer seen,

    With happier zeal pursued.

    ‘With hope extinct and brow composed

    I mark’d the present die;

    Its term of life was nearly closed,

    Yet it had more than I.

    ‘But thou, thought to the world’s new hour

    Thou come with aspect marr’d,

    Shorn of the joy, the bloom, the power,

    Which best beseem its bard;

    ‘Though more than half thy years be past,

    And spent thy youthful prime;

    Though, round thy firmer manhood cast,

    Hang weeds of our sad time,

    ‘Whereof thy youth felt all the spell,

    And traversed all the shade—

    Though late, though dimm’d, though weak, yet tell

    Hope to a world new-made!

    ‘Help it to reach our deep desire,

    The dream which fill’d our brain,

    Fix’d in our soul a thirst like fire

    Immedicable pain!

    ‘Which to the wilderness drove out

    Our life, to Alpine snow;

    And palsied all our deed with doubt

    And all our word with woe—

    ‘What still of strength is left, employ,

    That end to help men gain:

    One mighty wave of thought and joy

    Lifting mankind amain!

    The vision ended; I awoke

    As out of sleep, and no

    Voice moved—only the torrent broke

    The silence, far below.

    Soft darkness on the turf did lie;

    Solemn, o’er hut and wood,

    In the yet star-sown nightly sky,

    The peak of Jaman stood.

    Still in my soul the voice I heard

    Of Obermann—away

    I turn’d; by some vague impulse stirr’d,

    Along the rocks of Naye

    And Sonchaud’s piny flanks I gaze

    And the blanch’d summit bare

    Of Malatrait, to where in haze

    The Valais opens fair,

    And the domed Velan with his snows

    Behind the upcrowding hills

    Doth all the heavenly opening close

    Which the Rhone’s murmur fills—

    And glorious there, without a sound,

    Across the glimmering lake,

    High in the Valais depth profound,

    I saw the morning break.