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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 1855.]

IN front the awful Alpine track

Crawls up its rocky stair;

The autumn storm-winds drive the rack

Close o’er it, in the air.

Behind are the abandon’d baths

Mute in their meadows lone;

The leaves are on the valley paths;

The mists are on the Rhone—

The white mists rolling like a sea.

I hear the torrents roar.

—Yes, Obermann, all speaks of thee!

I feel thee near once more.

I turn thy leaves: I feel their breath

Once more upon me roll;

That air of languor, cold, and death,

Which brooded o’er thy soul.

Fly hence, poor Wretch, whoe’er thou art,

Condemn’d to cast about,

All shipwreck in thy own weak heart,

For comfort from without:

A fever in these pages burns

Beneath the calm they feign;

A wounded human spirit turns

Here, on its bed of pain.

Yes, though the virgin mountain air

Fresh through these pages blows,

Though to these leaves the glaciers spare

The soul of their white snows,

Though here a mountain murmur swells

Of many a dark-bough’d pine,

Though, as you read, you hear the bells

Of the high-pasturing kine—

Yet, through the hum of torrent lone,

And brooding mountain bee,

There sobs I know not what ground tone

Of human agony.

Is it for this, because the sound

Is fraught too deep with pain,

That, Obermann! the world around

So little loves thy strain?

Some secrets may the poet tell,

For the world loves new ways.

To tell too deep ones is not well;

It knows not what he says.

Yet of the spirits who have reign’d

In this our troubled day,

I know but two, who have attain’d,

Save thee, to see their way.

By England’s lakes, in grey old age,

His quiet home one keeps;

And one, the strong much-toiling Sage,

In German Weimar sleeps.

But Wordsworth’s eyes avert their ken

From half of human fate;

And Goethe’s course few sons of men

May think to emulate.

For he pursued a lonely road,

His eyes on Nature’s plan;

Neither made man too much a God,

Nor God too much a man.

Strong was he, with a spirit free

From mists, and sane, and clear;

Clearer, how much! than ours: yet we

Have a worse course to steer.

For though his manhood bore the blast

Of Europe’s stormiest time,

Yet in a tranquil world was pass’d

His tenderer youthful prime.

But we, brought forth and rear’d in hours

Of change, alarm, surprise—

What shelter to grow ripe is ours?

What leisure to grow wise?

Like children bathing on the shore,

Buried a wave beneath,

The second wave succeeds, before

We have had time to breathe.

Too fast we live, too much are tried,

Too harass’d, to attain

Wordsworth’s sweet calm, or Goethe’s wide

And luminous view to gain.

And then we turn, thou sadder Sage!

To thee: we feel thy spell.

The hopeless tangle of our age—

Thou too hast scann’d it well.

Immovable thou sittest; still

As death; compos’d to bear.

Thy head is clear, thy feeling chill—

And icy thy despair.

Yes, as the Son of Thetis said,

One hears thee saying now—

Greater by far than thou are dead:

Strive not: die also thou.

Ah! Two desires toss about

The poet’s feverish blood.

One drives him to the world without,

And one to solitude.

The glow, he cries, the thrill of life

Where, where do these abound?

Not in the world, not in the strife

Of men, shall they be found.

He who hath watch’d, not shar’d, the strife,

Knows how the day hath gone;

He only lives with the world’s life

Who hath renounc’d his own.

To thee we come, then. Clouds are roll’d

Where thou, O Seer, art set;

Thy realm of thought is drear and cold—

The world is colder yet!

And thou hast pleasures too to share

With those who come to thee:

Balms floating on thy mountain air,

And healing sights to see.

How often, where the slopes are green

On Jaman, hast thou sate

By some high chalet door, and seen

The summer day grow late,

And darkness steal o’er the wet grass

With the pale crocus starr’d,

And reach that glimmering sheet of glass

Beneath the piny sward,

Lake Leman’s waters, far below:

And watch’d the rosy light

Fade from the distant peaks of snow:

And on the air of night

Heard accents of the eternal tongue

Through the pine branches play:

Listen’d, and felt thyself grow young;

Listen’d, and wept——Away!

Away the dreams that but deceive!

And thou, sad Guide, adieu!

I go; Fate drives me: but I leave

Half of my life with you.

We, in some unknown Power’s employ,

Move on a rigorous line:

Can neither, when we will, enjoy;

Nor, when we will, resign.

I in the world must live:—but thou,

Thou melancholy Shade!

Wilt not, if thou canst see me now,

Condemn me, nor upbraid.

For thou art gone away from earth,

And place with those dost claim,

The Children of the Second Birth

Whom the world could not tame;

And with that small transfigur’d Band,

Whom many a different way

Conducted to their common land,

Thou learn’st to think as they.

Christian and pagan, king and slave,

Soldier and anchorite,

Distinctions we esteem so grave,

Are nothing in their sight.

They do not ask, who pin’d unseen,

Who was on action hurl’d,

Whose one bond is that all have been

Unspotted by the world.

There without anger thou wilt see

Him who obeys thy spell

No more, so he but rest, like thee,

Unsoil’d:—and so, Farewell!

Farewell!—Whether thou now liest near

That much-lov’d inland sea,

The ripples of whose blue waves cheer

Vevey and Meillerie,

And in that gracious region bland,

Where with clear-rustling wave

The scented pines of Switzerland

Stand dark round thy green grave,

Between the dusty vineyard walls

Issuing on that green place

The early peasant still recalls

The pensive stranger’s face,

And stoops to clear thy moss-grown date

Ere he plods on again;—

Or whether, by maligner Fate,

Among the swarms of men,

Where between granite terraces

The blue Seine rolls her wave,

The Capital of Pleasure sees

Thy hardly-heard-of grave—

Farewell! Under the sky we part,

In this stern Alpine dell.

O unstrung will! O broken heart!

A last, a last farewell!