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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 1867.]

THE MASTER stood upon the mount, and taught.

He saw a fire in his disciples’ eyes;

‘The old law,’ they said, ‘is wholly come to naught!

Behold the new world rise!’

‘Was it,’ the Lord then said, ‘with scorn ye saw

The old law observed by Scribes and Pharisees?

I say unto you, see ye keep that law

More faithfully than these!

‘Too hasty heads for ordering worlds, alas!

Think not that I to annul the law have will’d;

No jot, no tittle from the law shall pass,

Till all hath been fulfill’d.’

So Christ said eighteen hundred years ago.

And what then shall be said to those to-day

Who cry aloud to lay the old world low

To clear the new world’s way?

‘Religious fervours! ardour misapplied!

Hence, hence,’ they cry, ‘ye do but keep man blind!

But keep him self-immersed, preoccupied,

And lame the active mind.’

Ah! from the old world let some one answer give:

‘Scorn ye this world, their tears, their inward cares?

I say unto you, see that your souls live

A deeper life than theirs.

‘Say ye: The spirit of man has found new roads,

And we must leave the old faiths, and walk therein?—

Leave then the Cross as ye have left carved gods,

But guard the fire within!

‘Bright, else, and fast the stream of life may roll,

And no man may the other’s hurt behold;

Yet each will have one anguish—his own soul

Which perishes of cold.’

Here let that voice make end! then let a strain

From a far lonelier distance, like the wind

Be heard, floating through heaven, and fill again

These men’s profoundest mind:

‘Children of men! the unseen Power, whose eye

For ever doth accompany mankind,

Hath look’d on no religion scornfully

That man did ever find.

‘Which has not taught weak wills how much they can,

Which has not fall’n on the dry heart like rain,

Which has not cried to sunk, self-weary man:

Thou must be born again!

‘Children of men! not that your age excel

In pride of life the ages of your sires,

But that you think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well,

The Friend of man desires’