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

The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems


[First published 1849. Reprinted 1855.]

To die be given us, or attain!

Fierce work it were, to do again.

So pilgrims, bound for Mecca, pray’d

At burning noon: so warriors said,

Scarf’d with the cross, who watch’d the miles

Of dust that wreath’d their struggling files

Down Lydian mountains: so, when snows

Round Alpine summits eddying rose,

The Goth, bound Rome-wards: so the Hun,

Crouch’d on his saddle, when the sun

Went lurid down o’er flooded plains

Through which the groaning Danube strains

To the drear Euxine: so pray all,

Whom labours, self-ordain’d, enthrall;

Because they to themselves propose

On this side the all-common close

A goal which, gain’d, may give repose.

So pray they: and to stand again

Where they stood once, to them were pain;

Pain to thread back and to renew

Past straits, and currents long steer’d through.

But milder natures, and more free;

Whom an unblam’d serenity

Hath freed from passions, and the state

Of struggle these necessitate;

Whom schooling of the stubborn mind

Hath made, or birth hath found, resign’d;

These mourn not, that their goings pay

Obedience to the passing day:

These claim not every laughing Hour

For handmaid to their striding power;

Each in her turn, with torch uprear’d,

To await their march; and when appear’d,

Through the cold gloom, with measur’d race,

To usher for a destin’d space,

(Her own sweet errands all foregone)

The too imperious Traveller on.

These, Fausta, ask not this: nor thou,

Time’s chafing prisoner, ask it now.

We left, just ten years since, you say,

That wayside inn we left to day:

Our jovial host, as forth we fare,

Shouts greeting from his easy chair;

High on a bank our leader stands,

Reviews and ranks his motley bands;

Makes clear our goal to every eye,

The valley’s western boundary.

A gate swings to: our tide hath flow’d

Already from the silent road.

The valley pastures, one by one,

Are threaded, quiet in the sun:

And now beyond the rude stone bridge

Slopes gracious up the western ridge.

Its woody border, and the last

Of its dark upland farms is past;

Cool farms, with open-lying stores,

Under their burnish’d sycamores:

All past: and through the trees we glide

Emerging on the green hill-side.

There climbing hangs, a far-seen sign,

Our wavering, many-colour’d line;

There winds, upstreaming slowly still

Over the summit of the hill.

And now, in front, behold outspread

Those upper regions we must tread;

Mild hollows, and clear heathy swells,

The cheerful silence of the fells.

Some two hours’ march, with serious air,

Through the deep noontide heats we fare:

The red-grouse, springing at our sound,

Skims, now and then, the shining ground;

No life, save his and ours, intrudes

Upon these breathless solitudes.

O joy! again the farms appear;

Cool shade is there, and rustic cheer:

There springs the brook will guide us down,

Bright comrade, to the noisy town.

Lingering, we follow down: we gain

The town, the highway, and the plain.

And many a mile of dusty way,

Parch’d and road-worn, we made that day;

But, Fausta, I remember well

That, as the balmy darkness fell,

We bath’d our hands, with speechless glee,

That night, in the wide-glimmering Sea.

Once more we tread this self-same road

Fausta, which ten years since we trod:

Alone we tread it, you and I;

Ghosts of that boisterous company.

Here, where the brook shines, near its head,

In its clear, shallow, turf-fring’d bed;

Here, whence the eye first sees, far down,

Capp’d with faint smoke, the noisy town;

Here sit we, and again unroll,

Though slowly, the familiar whole.

The solemn wastes of heathy hill

Sleep in the July sunshine still:

The self-same shadows now, as then,

Play through this grassy upland glen:

The loose dark stones on the green way

Lie strewn, it seems, where then they lay:

On this mild bank above the stream,

(You crush them) the blue gentians gleam.

Still this wild brook, the rushes cool,

The sailing foam, the shining pool.—

These are not chang’d: and we, you say,

Are scarce more chang’d, in truth, than they.

The Gipsies, whom we met below,

They too have long roam’d to and fro.

They ramble, leaving, where they pass,

Their fragments on the cumber’d grass.

And often to some kindly place,

Chance guides the migratory race

Where, though long wanderings intervene,

They recognize a former scene.

The dingy tents are pitch’d: the fires

Give to the wind their wavering spires;

In dark knots crouch round the wild flame

Their children, as when first they came;

They see their shackled beasts again

Move, browsing, up the grey-wall’d lane.

Signs are not wanting, which might raise

The ghosts in them of former days:

Signs are not wanting, if they would;

Suggestions to disquietude.

For them, for all, Time’s busy touch,

While it mends little, troubles much:

Their joints grow stiffer; but the year

Runs his old round of dubious cheer:

Chilly they grow; yet winds in March,

Still, sharp as ever, freeze and parch:

They must live still; and yet, God knows,

Crowded and keen the country grows:

It seems as if, in their decay,

The Law grew stronger every day.

So might they reason; so compare,

Fausta, times past with times that are.

But no:—they rubb’d through yesterday

In their hereditary way;

And they will rub through, if they can,

To-morrow on the self-same plan;

Till death arrives to supersede,

For them, vicissitude and need.

The Poet, to whose mighty heart

Heaven doth a quicker pulse impart,

Subdues that energy to scan

Not his own course, but that of Man.

Though he move mountains; though his day

Be pass’d on the proud heights of sway;

Though he hath loos’d a thousand chains;

Though he hath borne immortal pains;

Action and suffering though he know;

—He hath not liv’d, if he lives so.

He sees, in some great-historied land,

A ruler of the people stand;

Sees his strong thought in fiery flood

Roll through the heaving multitude;

Exults: yet for no moment’s space

Envies the all-regarded place.

Beautiful eyes meet his; and he

Bears to admire uncravingly:

They pass; he, mingled with the crowd,

Is in their far-off triumphs proud.

From some high station he looks down,

At sunset, on a populous town;

Surveys each happy group that fleets,

Toil ended, through the shining streets,

Each with some errand of its own;—

And does not say, I am alone.

He sees the gentle stir of birth

When Morning purifies the earth;

He leans upon a gate, and sees

The pastures, and the quiet trees.

Low woody hill, with gracious bound,

Folds the still valley almost round;

The cuckoo, loud on some high lawn,

Is answer’d from the depth of dawn;

In the hedge straggling to the stream,

Pale, dew-drench’d, half-shut roses gleam:

But where the further side slopes down

He sees the drowsy new-wak’d clown

In his white quaint-embroider’d frock

Make, whistling, towards his mist-wreath’d flock;

Slowly, behind the heavy tread,

The wet flower’d grass heaves up its head.—

Lean’d on his gate, he gazes: tears

Are in his eyes, and in his ears

The murmur of a thousand years:

Before him he sees Life unroll,

A placid and continuous whole;

That general Life, which does not cease,

Whose secret is not joy, but peace;

That Life, whose dumb wish is not miss’d

If birth proceeds, if things subsist:

The Life of plants, and stones, and rain:

The Life he craves; if not in vain

Fate gave, what Chance shall not control,

His sad lucidity of soul.

You listen:—but that wandering smile,

Fausta, betrays you cold the while.

Your eyes pursue the bells of foam

Wash’d, eddying, from this bank, their home.

Those Gipsies, so your thoughts I scan,

Are less, the Poet more, than man.

They feel not, though they move and see:

Deeply the Poet feels; but he

Breathes, when he will, immortal air,

Where Orpheus and where Homer are.

In the day’s life, whose iron round

Hems us all in, he is not bound.

He escapes thence, but we abide.

Not deep the Poet sees, but wide.

The World in which we live and move

Outlasts aversion, outlasts love:

Outlasts each effort, interest, hope,

Remorse, grief, joy:—and were the scope

Of these affections wider made,

Man still would see, and see dismay’d,

Beyond his passion’s widest range

Far regions of eternal change.

Nay, and since death, which wipes out man,

Finds him with many an unsolv’d plan,

With much unknown, and much untried,

Wonder not dead, and thirst not dried,

Still gazing on the ever full

Eternal mundane spectacle;

This World in which we draw our breath,

In some sense, Fausta, outlasts death.

Blame thou not therefore him, who dares

Judge vain beforehand human cares.

Whose natural insight can discern

What through experience others learn.

Who needs not love and power, to know

Love transient, power an unreal show.

Who treads at ease life’s uncheer’d ways:—

Him blame not, Fausta, rather praise.

Rather thyself for some aim pray

Nobler than this—to fill the day.

Rather, that heart, which burns in thee,

Ask, not to amuse, but to set free.

Be passionate hopes not ill resign’d

For quiet, and a fearless mind.

And though Fate grudge to thee and me

The Poet’s rapt security,

Yet they, believe me, who await

No gifts from Chance, have conquer’d Fate.

They, winning room to see and hear,

And to men’s business not too near,

Through clouds of individual strife

Draw homewards to the general Life.

Like leaves by suns not yet uncurl’d:

To the wise, foolish; to the world,

Weak: yet not weak, I might reply,

Not foolish, Fausta, in His eye,

To whom each moment in its race,

Crowd as we will its neutral space,

Is but a quiet watershed

Whence, equally, the Seas of Life and Death are fed.

Enough, we live:—and if a life,

With large results so little rife,

Though bearable, seem hardly worth

This pomp of worlds, this pain of birth;

Yet, Fausta, the mute turf we tread,

The solemn hills around us spread,

This stream that falls incessantly,

The strange-scrawl’d rocks, the lonely sky,

If I might lend their life a voice,

Seem to bear rather than rejoice.

And even could the intemperate prayer

Man iterates, while these forbear,

For movement, for an ampler sphere,

Pierce Fate’s impenetrable ear;

Not milder is the general lot

Because our spirits have forgot,

In action’s dizzying eddy whirl’d,

The something that infects the world.